Feeding Beef-On-Dairy Calves

Feeding Beef-On-Dairy Calves

Beef-On-Dairy breeding has proved to be a win-win strategy for both the beef and dairy industry. A decline in national cattle numbers has sent beef packers looking for additional cattle sources. These cross cattle also provide a year-round supply of meat to processing facilities as compared to the seasonal supply provided by traditional beef herds.  

On the downside, Beef-On-Dairy genetics can pose some challenges for packing plants. Many of these challenges can be overcome with good breeding and feeding programs. The biggest challenges that seem to be facing dairy cross cattle are health related. Liver abscesses and heart and lung damage are more prevalent in these animals than in traditional ranch raised carcasses. The increased incidence of these problems in dairy-beef cattle is thought to be brought on by poor calfhood nutrition, and gut health related stressors such as antibiotics in hospital milk, high pathogen load, poor sanitation, and poor-quality milk replacer.

The packer will discount prices for any carcass that does not fit their ideal. Take steps to achieve the highest possible pay price for your cattle. Implement a successful crossbreeding program and consider the following when feeding Beef-On-Dairy calves:



Adequate quantities of high-quality colostrum given in a timely manner are just as important for the health and productive life of a calf raised for beef as it is for the calf raised to enter the milking herd. Mistakes made in the management of the calf early on can have lasting impact on the productive life and potential growth of the animal.

Typically, calf raisers will feed lower amounts of milk to beef calves in an attempt to encourage early starter intake and ultimately to be of lower input cost. While this may sound like a good strategy it often results in the cattle having to stay on feed longer to reach a desired body weight.

A traditional 20:20 milk replacer (MR) doesn’t provide the calf with much more than maintenance requirements. This means that the calf won’t be growing much or have extra fuel for the immune system until it is consuming enough starter to provide that additional nutrition.

Phase feeding calves allows the calf to be fed greater amounts of milk early on in life, and then steps that amount down overtime to encourage early feed intake and weaning. Implementing a phase feeding program for dairy cross calves can still be affordable and provide the calf with the nutrition it needs in the first few weeks of life. Visit with your nutritionist or milk replacer representative to choose a milk replacer that is the best fit for your milk feeding program and your goals for average daily gain.



The key to a successful weaning program is keeping the calf on feed. Pre-weaning the calf is getting most of their nutrition from milk. Upon weaning we need the calf to increase dry feed intake to meet nutritional needs for maintenance and gain. Calves that don’t eat enough or go off feed at weaning are much more susceptible to disease.

Do not wean calves until they are consuming at least 1 kg. (2.2 lbs.) of starter feed for 3 consecutive days. This should be evaluated on an individual basis not as an average for the row. Once the calf is consuming enough dry feed then the milk amount can be cut back, and the weaning process can begin.

We are continually learning more and more about the gastrointestinal system and changes that happen during stressful events such as weaning. During stressful events it is common for the animal to experience imbalances in gut microflora. These imbalances impair communication with the immune system and impact the way that it functions. Avoid dysbiosis by using low stress methods of animal handling and include a well proven direct fed microbial (dfm) in the feed.

Recent research from a World Renowned Veterinary Group in the western United States showed that feeding a dfm, TomaHawk iL Zn, in the feed of dairy crossbred calves encouraged feed intake and showed a 1.23% increase in feed intake. TomaHawk iL Zn also had a positive impact on the health and mortality of these animals even out to 150 days after the calves stopped receiving the supplement.



Low input costs do not always translate over to profitability. Spending more money on nutrition usually saves you in the long run when it comes to incurring additional costs for treatment, labor, death loss, and carcass penalties.

Consider tracking variables such as cost per pound of gain, treatment cost, relapse treatments, and death loss to evaluate the true profitability of your calf raising program.


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published