Raising Calf-Fed Holsteins: Technologies to Improve Production

Carcass characteristics of Holsteins can be greatly improved with today’s technology. Learn how to get the most meat from your Holsteins.
Raising Calf-Fed Holsteins: Technologies to Improve Production - Videos


Holsteins are a traditional dairy breed, but with today’s technology they can produce exceptional beef. This video will outline several technologies that can increase the profitability of your calf-fed Holsteins—implants, ionophores, and β-agonists. These technologies can be used alone or combined to improve the growth performance and carcass merit of Holsteins.

Who is this for?

Farmers (primarily dairy farmers) who wish to raise their Holstein calves for beef production as an alternative source of revenue.


Beef cattle nutrition Beef cattle metabolism Beef cattle management Feedlot nutrition and management

More by Tara L. Felix 

View Transcript

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- When you enter the feed lot, this is the view you always want to see.

Holsteins up and eating.

But eating is not enough.

You need to consider using technologies to enhance the carcass characteristics that are inherent in the Holstein breed, which has traditionally been selected only for milk production.

I'm Dr. Tara Felix.

The Penn State extension beef specialist, and today, I'm going to talk to you about how to improve upon your hosting genetic deficiencies when raising them for beef.

The Holstein breed is what the beef industry refers to as a flat-muscled breed.

This means they don't make nicely shaped steaks.

The steak pictured on the left is from a Holstein steer.

Steaks from Holstein animals are generally more triangular and the consumer expects nice round shaped steaks, like the steak from the Angus steer on the right.

Regardless of the shape though, steaks from cow fed Holsteins generally marvel extremely well and are quite tender.

Making them an excellent beef selection.

One thing we can do to improve upon the shape of steaks from Holsteins is to employ science.

Modern science has greatly improved management technologies that we have for cattle and with the right combination of technologies, you can create the desired meat characteristics in your Holsteins.

Three technologies that have proven to work separately or together to improve Holstein carcass characteristics are steroid implants, ionophores and beta-agonists.

But what are they and how do they work?

We'll start with steroid implants.

Steroid implants are small pellets that are injected just under the skin on the back of the ear.

The pellets slowly release hormones that stimulate muscle growth.

This chart illustrates the percentage of improvement of implanted steers over those that were not implanted.

Where the bar is depicting average daily gain are in stripes and the bars depicting feed efficiency are in dots.

You can see that implants increase both feed efficiency and average daily gain by about five to 15% on average.

Because of these positive affects, implants reduce the number of days on feed and can net a return of approximately 50 to $100 return on investment per animal.

Now many folks are concerned when they hear that steroid hormones are used for cattle that are being used in food production.

However, these same hormones are present in all living things, animals and plants alike.

And we measure hormone activity on an anagram scale.

But it's hard to conceptualize that.

So, if we set hormone activity in beef from an implanted steer equal to one M&M, then the relative hormone activity and the same amount of cabbage, for example, would be equal to 1000 M&Ms.

And the relative activity in the same amount of tofu would be equal to six tractor trailer loads of M&Ms.

Another technology that we use in the feed lot is ionophores.

Ionophores are a type of antibiotic that originated in the poultry industry.

In cattle, we use them to modify the room environment and make it more efficient.

Ionophores increase feed efficiency in cattle then.

And today, more than 90% of feed lot cattle are fed in ionophore.

In cows that grain, like our Holsteins, the average daily gain in feed efficiency increased by about 10%.

The net return on investment of using ionophores was about 20 to $25 per head.

Many folks are concerned about the spread of antibiotic resistance from livestock to humans.

However, ionophores are what the industry refers to as non-shared class antibiotics, which means that ionophores are not used in human applications, and therefore, there's no potential for the transfer of antibiotic resistance to humans if they consume beef from cattle fed ionophores.

Now beta-agonists are the third technology and they're used to increase muscle development and size and can lead to similar beef being produced, but with fewer cattle and thus the land needed for total beef production is reduced, as well.

Beta-agonists maximize profitability by increasing average daily gain and feed efficiency and they return about 20 to $40 per head on investment.

But a word of caution.

They can only be fed the last 28 to 42 days on feed.

And so feeding beta-agonists may require designated pen.

Many folks get concerned about beta-agonists because they believe that only hormones increase muscle size and there are some general misconceptions about the safety of hormonal products, as discussed earlier.

However, beta-agonists are not hormones.

In fact, beta-agonists are routinely used in many human health applications to relax smooth muscles.

One example of this application would be for asthma medications.

Remember that all technologies we use for livestock production are rigorously tested and routinely reviewed to ensure their safety and efficacy.

While we've discussed just a few technologies that are available to Holstein beef producers, using just one of them will improve the feed efficiency of your Holstein operation.

But in combination, the benefits are additive, thus, a combination of technologies is generally the best management approach.

As always, work with your extension agent and nutritionist, and/or your local product representatives to find out which combination of these technologies works best for you to create the desired carcass characteristics in your Holsteins.


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