With low milk prices pressuring Pennsylvania dairy farmers, many are looking for options to improve their bottom lines.
For some, that means feeding out their bull calves and sending them to auction as feeders or for beef.
That sent Pennsylvania meat packer JBS to Penn State to see if there was a way to take advantage of the availability of dairy beef by making them more consistent and desirable for the beef market.
“There are two packers in Pennsylvania,” said Dustin Heeter, a Penn State livestock educator. “It is important that producers provide them with the critical mass they need to keep them here.”
Heeter presented the results of the first dairy beef trial at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Livestock Evaluation Center near State College recently and at Ag and Dairy Day 2017 last month at Allegheny College.
A group of Holstein steers that had been raised by Steve and Dan Gross of Manchester, in York County, were used for the trial. They were born in August and averaged 545 pounds when they arrived at the evaluation center in February.
Many of the state’s Holstein steers are turned out to pasture as dairy farmers do with their heifers. But this produces a large-framed, leggy steer without much muscle mass.
In the trial, the steers were fed an average of 3.96 pounds of gain per day with a conversion of 6.99 pounds of feed into every pound of weight gain.
The aim was for the steer to weigh 1,300 pounds at finish. The meat proved to be be well marbled, and most of the steers produced choice beef when slaughtered.
“The Holstein breed carries the marbling gene that is desirable,” Heeter said.
It’s important that packers be provided with consistency, he said, and Holstein ribeye steaks are the right size for restaurants and caterers.
The trial used implants throughout the research. Another trial is planned that will compare two groups, one using implants and the other without the implants.
The economics of the first trial didn’t prove too positive, but Heeter reminded the audience that union wages are a factor at the evaluation center.
With forward contracting and modest farm expenses, Holstein steers could be an option for some dairy producers.
Heeter said that producers who have underused facilities might see this as a promising opportunity. It could be something for a farmer who is no longer milking cows but still wants to make use of his barns.
The Penn State Livestock Team has been looking for ways to breathe new life into the agricultural community of northwestern Pennsylvania and will present several meetings in the area in the near future.
In addition to the possibility of Holstein steers as an option for some in the area, there is also a tremendous amount of forage in this corner of the state that could come into play for adding more agriculture here.
As farmers look for other options, they may be interested in helping meet the demand for organic beef.
A major part of that enterprise is the actual marketing of the product, Heeter said, which is a skill that farmers have to learn to be successful.
Source: Lancaster Farming