Thinking Outside the Breed


We did something recently that we’ve never done before. We intentionally crossbred Holsteins. Before I let my crossbreeding friends get too excited, I’ll explain – we used Angus semen and we don’t plan on milking the heifers, but we do plan to keep them.

The other part of this story is that our farm hasn’t always raised dairy cattle exclusively. Before we purchased the dairy, Heim and Sons Partnership operated both a dairy and a beef herd. The beef herd started when the neighbors Hereford bull got in with the Heim’s Holstein cows many years ago. When the operation split into a dairy herd and a beef herd two years ago, the beef cows were mostly black cows with mostly Angus genetics. Starting out we didn’t want any part of the beef operation, but as we’ve gotten our feet wet as dairy operators, we realize that we’re not taking full advantage of our available pasture. In addition, we think we would enjoy having a little bit more diverse income.

A few months ago, we bought 10 bred Holstein heifers. One of those heifers had gotten into the neighbor’s pasture with an Angus bull and been bred. She delivered a little black bull calf, and he brought $50 more than his Holstein counterparts at the local auction. There are some additional benefits that also serve as “bonuses”. Crossbreeding generally increases conception rate and Angus calves are typically smaller (and therefore easier to deliver) than Holstein calves.

Our Angus x Holstein bull calf born in August 2013.
Our Angus x Holstein bull calf born in August 2013.

Our plan is to use Angus semen on the bottom 5%-10% of our herd. These cows are typically lower producers who carry excess body condition and are therefore beefier to begin with. This system will hopefully increase their efficiency by providing a less stressful calving and increasing conception to more quickly breed back. The reduction in Holstein replacement heifers will be offset by our sexed semen use on the top portion of our herd. We will sell the bull calves when they’re a few days old just like we do with our Holstein bulls, but we will get a higher price. And, just like with our Holsteins, we will raise and breed the heifer calves.

When we breed our crossbreds, though, they’ll become beef cows. We’ll use Angus semen (or possibly another beef breed such as Simmental) and the half-beef cow will raise her calf to weaning. After weaning, we will keep the heifers to work toward building a true beef herd, and we will sell the steer calf crop. This will provide some diversity to our income that we currently lack.

We’re probably the only people who’ve ever bred the same cow to G W Atwood and Angus, but we thought she needed a lot of dairy type to produce a good Holstein heifer, and we think she only needs a little Angus to produce a beef cow. We had been talking about someday buying some beef cows, but we feel this alternative makes a lot of sense for our operation. Growing a beef herd this way is slow, but it requires minimal investment and will hopefully help accelerate our dairy herd improvement while also helping us diversify our farm.

2 thoughts on “Thinking Outside the Breed

  1. This is really interesting. Is the increased conception rate due to more viable semen in the beef cow sire, or just the better odds of the fetus coming to fruition when it’s a crossbreed?

    1. I’m not entirely sure how notable the difference will be, but cross breeding in general is supposed to lead to better conception, I believe more due to a depressed purebred conception rate related to some degree of inbreeding existing within the breeds.

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