‘Breeding to feeding’ builds better dairy bulls

Crossbred Jersey-Limousins could be the answer to rebuilding North America’s cattle herd

Alberta dairy producers may favour Holsteins on their farms, but down in the heart of America’s Midwest, Jerry Wulf milks around 30,000 “smaller, more efficient” Jersey cows — over half of his total dairy herd.

But Jerseys have just one problem, he said.

“That stray Jersey bull calf that she was raising was a liability, not an asset,” said the Minnesota-based producer. “What are we going to do with this little guy that you put more feed in him than he would produce for a carcass?”

In 2010, Wulf decided to see if he could turn his liability into an asset by breeding Jersey replacement heifers with purebred Limousin bulls — a process he calls ‘breeding to feeding.’

And the Beef Builder breed was born.

“We’re fetching $2,400 or $2,600 on today’s market for a fat steer, but somewhere out there, there’s a beef cow that ate for 365 days to raise that steer,” said Wulf. “We could sell a $2,400 Beef Builder steer now out of that little Jersey cow that also sold about $7,500 worth of milk in a year’s time.”

Since 2012, the Wulfs have been selling semen to dairies across the United States, with the agreement that they will buy the calf back based on day-old Holstein dairy calf prices, plus a premium.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to add value, particularly to Jerseys, but now about a third of our semen sales are going on Holsteins,” he said.

And Wulf believes this could be the answer to rebuilding North America’s shrinking cattle herd.

“There’s around nine million dairy cows out there, and that cow herd hasn’t shrunk. I really think that’s going to be easier to sustain than beef cattle,” he said.

“I think it’s actually our lowest hanging fruit out there to add numbers of good feeder cattle to our beef supply chain.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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