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Nutritional Needs Different for Dairy and Beef Cattle
Missouri Ag Connection - 10/28/2019

Missouri dairy farmers are in a good position to switch to beef with some changes, says University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist Eric Bailey.

Dairy farmers already have assets such as land and equipment. More importantly, they know how to grow quality forage and manage changes that affect profitability. Bailey and other MU Extension beef, dairy and economic specialists recently talked with about 25 dairy farmers in southwestern Missouri.

Changing dairy markets have pushed about two-thirds of Missouri's Grade A dairy farmers out of business in the last 15 years. By contrast, Missouri farmers and ranchers added 67,000 beef cows over the past decade, says MU Extension agricultural economist Joe Horner.

"There is a tremendous opportunity to recalibrate and capture profit from a different enterprise," Bailey says.

Southwestern Missouri farmers and ranchers, known for growing high-quality forages, need to understand how beef cattle differ in forage needs, he says. If you have good-quality forages, consider backgrounding calves to generate revenue to cover inputs. Another option is the seed stock business.

MU Extension livestock specialist Eldon Cole says he learned early on in his 55-year-plus career with MU that beef cattle are forage "scavengers." They eat poorer quality roughages than their dairy counterparts.

Dairy cows need high-quality forages to produce good milk. Beef cattle eat forage to gain weight. "Beef cows convert fiber to steak," Bailey says.

Profits depend on pounds of beef instead of pounds of milk. Conception rates matter most. "Getting your cows pregnant is key to profitability," he says. Profitability depends on pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed for breeding and control of production costs.

Good body condition scores improve herd conception rates. Poor-condition cows will show poor muscle tone and prominent skeletal features. "Thin cows don't usually breed in the first two heat cycles," Bailey says. Heavy cows do not sell well either.

Low-cost production is key to raising commodity beef. Consider value-added programs to improve profits.

Bailey gave goals for changing to beef:

- Cows must drop a calf every 365 days. Cull poor performers.

- Strive for a 90% or better conception rate.

- Feed hay fewer than 30 days a year.

- Cows should wean 50% of their body weight each year.

- Strive for cows with body condition scores of 5-6 or better at calving and in the first 90 days after calving. Good body condition scores lead to reproductive success and improved calf immune systems. Cows should be under 1,200 pounds.

- Cull large cows.

- Do not select for milk production. When there is too much milk in a beef herd, cows need more feed and production costs rise.

- In a defined breeding system, 66% of calves should be born in the first 21 days of calving season.

- If growing warm-season grasses, calve in April or May, or consider fall calving if using K31 fescue because of the endophyte. Don't let cows graze pastures shorter than 4 inches.

For more information, contact Bailey at in new window) or 573-884-7873.

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