Dairy steers are an important source of beef production in the U.S. Since Holstein is the dominant dairy breed, emphasis is placed on finishing Holstein steers. “Dairy beef” refers to any dairy herd progeny developed to be ruminating cattle and harvested at an age that qualifies them for the USDA Prime, Choice or Select quality grades. Beef cattle breeds are referred to as “native” breeds.
Relatively recent research with Holstein cattle started as calves reported similar performance. In a study with Holstein steers fed a corn silage based growing diet and a corn based finishing diet, and fed for an average of 265 days, the average daily gain was 3.58 lb/day with a conversion of 5.7 lb of feed per pound of gain on a DM basis. The steers were started on feed at 390 lb and taken to a final weight of 1330 lb. They had an average carcass weight of 774 lb and a 58.2% dressing percentage (Lehmkuhler and Ramos, 2008). In a similar study using Holstein steers fed a corn-based diet and started on feed at 483 lb and taken to 1288 lb with 243 days on feed, the steers averaged 3.4 lb/day gain with a conversion of 5.5 lb of feed per pound of gain on a DM basis. These steers had an average carcass weight of 750 lb and a 58.3% dressing percentage (Gorocica-Buenfil et al., 2007). These two different studies show the type of consistency that can occur with Holstein steers that are fed a corn-based diet for long periods of time, without a long growing period using long-stemmed forage.
The goal in finishing Holstein steers is to produce carcasses weighing 850 to 950 pounds that qualify for USDA quality grades Choice or Prime. Accomplishing this goal requires acknowledgement Holsteins have a large skeletal growth potential. Holstein cows produce steer progeny that have large frame scores. Consequently, these large-frame steers are not likely to be finished until they weigh at least 1,400 pounds. Steers with a bodyweight of 1,640 pounds and a dressing percentage of 61 percent would yield a carcass of 1,000 pounds. Carcass weights in excess of 1,000 pounds incur carcass price discounts.
The ideal live weight finished Holstein steers should achieve with 28 percent body fat is 1,400 to 1,550 pounds. This coincides with the USDA Choice quality grade. This endpoint is achieved only when a high-energy finishing diet, containing at least 0.62 Mcal net energy for gain per pound of dry matter, is fed from 770 pounds bodyweight to slaughter weight.
Finished dairy steers and heifers account for 16.2 percent of federally inspected steer and heifer beef production. Since Holsteins constitute 86 percent of the dairy cow population, Holstein steers and the few finished Holstein heifers are 13.9 percent of the fed steer and heifer supply.
Hogue recommends sourcing calves directly from the farm instead of purchasing them at auctions, which can be a high-risk endeavor in terms of disease. “You can’t make this work if you don’t keep the calves alive Another advantage of direct-sourcing calves is that prices can be more negotiable. For instance, on Monday at New Holland Sales Stable, newborn Holstein bull calves weighing 65 to 135 pounds fetched $300 to $610 per hundredweight. At the same sale in 2013, calves were averaging $135 per hundredweight and in 2014, they brought $315 per hundredweight.
Once a calf comes onto your farm, a tag stating the date and herd number needs to be placed in the ear immediately. Without the date, you won’t be able to track how long the steer stays on the farm — an essential piece of information because animals should be reaching market weight before 18 months of age. For their first 14 weeks of life, bull calves should be raised as if they were replacement heifers, receiving high quality milk replacer, textured starter grain and clean water. No roughage should be introduced before 12 weeks of age. Ten to 14 days prior to weaning, bull calves should be dehorned and castrated. This is also the time to implant the calves with growth hormones.
Unless the beef is to be direct-marketed as coming from nonimplanted cattle, Hogue strongly recommends using implants to boost an animal’s feed efficiency. A target gain should be 2.4 to 2.6 pounds per day, reaching the 1,400 pound market weight in 18 months or less. With implants, steers can reach this weight in as little as 14 months. Once weaned and in the finishing phase, steers ideally should be fed a total mixed ration that’s 80 percent grain on a dry matter basis. “Feeding free-choice hay and free-choice grain can work too, as long as they never run out of either
Holstein Feeder Steer Prices