Dairy herd analyses - Derrell Peel

2 September 2016

Noted expert Derrell Peel, the Oklahoma Extension Livestock marketing specialist, recently reported on the US dairy herd.

Although beef, as a by-product of the dairy industry, rarely exhibits a major influence on dairy industry production decisions, it is important to note that dairy animals contribute a significant portion of total animal slaughter and beef supply.

“The impact of dairy on beef markets varies over time depending on long-term trends and short-term market conditions in beef and dairy markets,” said Peel.

He expects increased beef cattle inventories as the US beef herd rebuilds to reduce the impact of the dairy industry on beef production to more historically typical levels in the coming years.

The US dairy cow herd has been relatively stable over the past 20 years, varying less than 4% from 9.0 million to 9.3 million head. By contrast, the US beef cow herd has varied by more than 18%, or 29.0 to 34.5 million head over the same period.

“Dairy cows, as a percent of all cows, have averaged 22.3% but have been at a record high of 24% in 2014 and 2015 as a result of low beef cow inventories,” Peel said.

The nature of dairy production means that basic herd dynamics are very different for dairy than beef. Dairy cows are culled more quickly so dairy herd turnover happens much faster.

“Dairy cow slaughter averages 30% of the 1 January inventory of cows each year compared with less than 10% for beef cows,” Peel said. “On average, the number of dairy replacements held each year is about 47% of the cow inventory. This represents about 48% of the estimated dairy calf crop and is nearly all the heifers born to dairy cows.”

This is in comparison with beef herds, where replacement heifers are approximately 18% of the cow inventory. About 64% of replacement dairy heifers enter the herd, which implies that, overall, about 30% of the estimated dairy calf crop is used for breeding. For beef herds, an average of 10% of the estimated beef calf crop is used for breeding females.

Peel added that the primary contributions of the dairy industry to beef production are male calves and cull cows, along with some cull heifers.

Also, most veal slaughter is from dairy calves. Adjusting for veal slaughter, male dairy calves average about 10% of the total beef-plus-dairy calf crop. In 2015, the percentage was a record 12%. Peel said the cause was a low beef calf crop compared with a stable dairy calf crop and low veal slaughter.

“Veal slaughter has trended down for many years but reached record-low levels… thanks to the high value of feeder cattle,” he said.

Beef and dairy

In addition, new technology provides the dairy industry with other ways to adjust relative to beef markets.

“Sexed semen and genomic testing are being used to target some dairy cows for production of replacement heifers,” Peel said. “Conversely, cows not used to produce replacements are, in some cases, being crossbred to beef breeds to produce a better feeder animal.”

Typically, dairy feeder cattle are discounted over beef breeds because of differences in productivity, efficiency and yield. However, dairy animals exhibit some advantages in feedlot situations.

“These animals are very predictable in finishing because of the uniformity of dairy genetics, though dairy calves are often placed on feed at very light weights and may take a year to finish,” Peel said. “Dairy cattle also tend to produce carcasses of consistent quality.”

For example, dairy cattle typically produce prime carcasses at two to three times the rate for beef breeds.

The differentiators

Although dairy cows only represent about 22% of all cows, they represent an average of 47% of total cow slaughter. In 2015, dairy cow slaughter represented a record level of 57% of total cow slaughter.

“Dairy cows typically have heavier carcass weights, though increased beef cow weights over time has closed the gap somewhat,” Peel said. “Reported cow carcass weights are an average across beef and dairy cow slaughter and changes in cow carcass weights are sometimes more of a reflection of changing proportions of dairy and beef cows being slaughtered than actual changes in animal weights.”

Oklahoma is the nation’s fifth leading producer of total cattle and calves, fourth leading producer of cows and third leading producer of beef cows, according to data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.