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By Mikaela Baker, (B. Ag Sci), TRAC Ruminant Productivity Consultant

Holstein beef is an established market in the USA but has not historically had the same popularity among Australian growers. The influence of a strong beef price and emphasis on holding onto bull calves longer has resulted in more questions asked; dairy farms about the possibilities of growing out the calves on farm and from beef producers as a cheaper animal to put through the feedlot.

There are a few differences to consider when holding Holstein and Holstein cross steers on farm to grow out in comparison to classic beef breeds:

  • Genetic development & body composition

  • Increased feed intake but slower weight gain

  • Greater water intake

  • More playful and tend to get bored easily

A key aspect to consider when looking at Holstein Steers for beef production is feed intake. According to Dr. Simone Holt, Holstein steers will have 10-12% greater feed intake for an equivalent weight gain to beef breeds, unfortunately, the increase

in consumption does not always correlate to a faster weight gain. The reasons for this involve differences in their genetic makeup and pattern of growth. Dairy breeds have larger organs, so consequently there will be a higher maintenance requirement but also a lower dress percentage compared to classic beef breeds. This is similar to what we have experienced in the field, however through combining all the inefficiencies we see that there is up to 30% lower feed conversion.

Holsteins will mature slightly differently, their genetic developmental pattern encourages them to grow more bone and frame size, with lower energy partitioned to muscle and fat deposition. Achieving your desired weight for sale with a suitable body condition will require a transition, intermediate and finisher ration.

To achieve the equivalent daily weight gain between Holstein steers and beef breeds, the ration is going to look a bit different. Holstein steers require a high energy density diet which is often achieved with a low forage to concentrate balance. Therefore, the TMR quality and consistency will require ongoing monitoring and assessments to check dry matter percentage and chop lengths to mitigate sorting. According to Dr. Simone Holt, challenges can arise from more ration sorting in a TMR than with other breeds, therefore, when we don’t have the mix quite right, we can see more rumen upsets and decreased feed efficiency.

Considering these challenges, pen management and setup is critical to getting desired growth rates with low health incidences. Typically, Holsteins are more playful than their beef counterparts, this can result in increased dust levels in dry areas, to manage dust and respiratory health, stocking rates will need to be carefully balanced with confinement feeding guidelines and seasonal differences. Additionally, avoiding overstocking through winter is as important, Holsteins enjoy a much greater water intake, this can result in wetter areas around water sources, water is essential to all classes and breeds of animals, ensuring unrestricted access and an ability to clean the water troughs daily will have a large impact on dry matter intake and feed conversion.

A few key considerations:

  • Entry weights for Holsteins start at 250 kg - the goal is to put them on a high energy diet before they begin building too much frame.

  • Run a high energy diet to account for lower feed efficiency and encourage greater muscle and fat deposition

  • Holsteins will typically be on feed for 250-300 days to be finished

  • Maximum average gains typically lie around 1.6 kg/day, depending on age, feed set-up and feed quality.

  • Holsteins typically have a slightly higher death/loss rate in feedlots in comparison to beef breeds.

Doing the math and having a target sale weight and price is the first step to identifying if Holstein beef is an option on your farm. For dairy farms that are looking at retaining more calves to grow out, consider the influence that this will have on heifer morbidity and mortality rates, and if they will be disadvantaged by greater stocking rates in the pens and shelters. The other key factor with potentially doubling the calf numbers, is the impact on employee availability and hours.

If you would like to discuss the opportunities of growing out Holstein and

Holstein cross calves on farm and how this may influence your business,

please do not hesitate to contact your local TRAC consultant today,

your experts in ruminant productivity on 08 8733 1888.


Our Consultants


Tom Thorn

0427 243 319

Owen Rees

0429 437 823

Mikaela Baker

0457 243 319


To download a copy of this article, please click the link below...

Holstein Steers for Beef Production
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