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Investigating conception rate for beef service sires bred to dairy cows and heifers

T.M. McWhorter, J.L. Hutchison, H.D. Norman, J.B. Cole, G.C. Fok, D.A.L. Lourenco, P.M. VanRaden
Journal of dairy science 2020 v.103 no.11 pp. 10374-10382
Angus, Holstein, beef bulls, beef production, calves, conception rate, crossbreds, dairy bulls, dairy cows, genomics, heifers, herds, inbreeding, income, markets, pedigree, phenotype, prices, semen, sires, United States
The widespread use of sexed semen on US dairy cows and heifers has led to an excess of replacement heifers' calves, and the sale prices for those calves are much lower than in the past. Females not selected to produce the next generation of replacement heifers are increasingly being bred to beef bulls to produce crossbred calves for beef production. The purpose of this study was to investigate the use of beef service sires bred to dairy cows and heifers and to provide a tool for dairy producers to evaluate beef service sires' conception. Sire conception rate (SCR) is a phenotypic evaluation of service sire fertility that is routinely calculated for US dairy bulls. A total of 268,174 breedings were available, which included 36 recognized beef breeds and 7 dairy breeds. Most of the beef-on-dairy inseminations (95.4%) were to Angus (AN) bulls. Because of the limited number of records among other breeds, we restricted our final evaluations to AN service sires bred to Holstein (HO) cows. Service-sire inbreeding and expected inbreeding of resulting embryo were set to zero because pedigree data for AN bulls were unavailable. There were 233,379 breedings from 1,344 AN service sire to 163,919 HO cows. A mean (SD) conception rate of 33.8% (47.3%) was observed compared with 34.3% (47.5%) for breedings with HO sires mated to HO cows. Publishable AN bulls were required to have ≥100 total matings, ≥10 matings in the most recent 12 mo, and breedings in at least 5 herds. Mean SCR reliability was 64.5% for 116 publishable bulls, with a maximum reliability of 99% based on 25,217 breedings. Average SCR was near zero (on AN base) with a range of −5.1 to 4.4. Breedings to HO heifers were also examined, which included 19,437 breedings (443 AN service sire and 15,971 HO heifers). A mean (SD) conception rate of 53.0% (49.9%) was observed, compared with 55.3% (49.7%) for breedings with a HO sire mated to a HO heifer. Beef sires were used more frequently in cows known to be problem breeders, which explains some of the difference in conception rate. Mean service number was 1.92 and 2.87 for HO heifers and 2.13 and 3.04 for HO cows mated to HO and AN sires, respectively. Mating dairy cows and heifers to beef bulls may be profitable if calf prices are higher, fertility is improved, or if practices such as sexed semen, genomic testing, and improved cow productive life allow herd owners to produce both higher quality dairy replacement and increased income from market calves.