Creating beef from dairy supply chains is not a new concept. For the past seven years, Penn State research programs have emphasized dairy progeny as part of the beef supply chain. And due to their tight genetic makeup, consistency of product from purebred dairy cattle, particularly Holsteins, made them a known commodity for the beef industry.

Felix tara
Beef Specialist / Penn State Extension
Ph.D. Candidate / Penn State University

Discussing optimal beef genetics for Holstein cows is a recent and critical need. The use of beef semen to breed Holstein cows has risen sharply in the U.S. Domestic beef semen sales have skyrocketed by over 350% since 2017.

Consistency is needed

The rapid growth of beef semen use in dairy herds has added value to beef-dairy progeny, but packer complaints about the inconsistency of beef-dairy carcasses came early and often in those first few years of beef-dairy production. This is logical because the commodity beef industry has product specifications, or “a box” for native beef cattle and “a box” for fed Holstein cattle (mostly steers) that are well established and meet specific customer demands and expectations. These boxes allow the industry to package beef effectively and efficiently for cold transportation around the globe. However, beef-dairy crossbreds were not fitting in either box.

The challenges facing the packer during the early rise of beef-dairy “boom” were real-world issues that required rapid solutions because these crossbred progeny were (are) being generated specifically for terminal markets.

Europe data, which predates U.S. data on beef-dairy crossbreds by several decades, have suggested that the meat from crossbred calves was more valuable than the meat from purebred dairy cattle and that crossbred calves from late-maturing breed types (Charolais, Limousin and Simmental) had better average daily gain and carcass characteristics than their counterparts from early maturing breeds. European markets routinely employ the use of beef breeds known for heavy muscling (Belgian Blue, Limousin and Galacian Blonde) in their Holstein cows to increase meat yield. While compelling for the European marketplace, the beef breeds selected in these previous research studies are known in the U.S. for poor carcass quality – i.e., not producing tender beef and not marbling well, little fat deposited in the muscle. In a market that lauds tender, USDA Choice and Prime, poor carcass quality just won’t cut it.


Research on beef-dairy crossbreds in the U.S. has progressed rapidly since 2018, in part due to necessity. Data from Texas Tech University (TTU) would suggest that the quality of beef-dairy carcasses rivals that of native beef cattle. In their studies, researchers report that carcasses from beef-dairy cattle are able to achieve similar quality grades at reduced yield grades.

Most cattle in the U.S. are marketing on a quality and yield grid. The grid systems ranks quality, from least to greatest, as Select, Choice (low, average or high) or Prime while assigning yield, from most to least desirable, on a numeric scale of YG1 to YG5. Payouts to the customer in a grid marketing system are greatest for cattle with the greatest quality and the most desirable yield (Prime, YG1, for example). Therefore, the TTU data suggests that beef-dairy carcasses may achieve premiums for Choice and Prime while avoiding the hefty discounts that come with Yield Grade 4 and 5 carcasses.

The consumer's part

In addition to the packer's willingness to pay for product, the consumer's willingness to eat the product drives value. In the previous case of the European beef breeds being used, for example, the U.S. customer would be more willing to reject tough, poorly marbled steaks that those heavier-muscled genetics may supply.

However, the TTU data reports nearly all of the steaks from beef-dairy crossbreds qualified as USDA Certified Tender. Similar observations related to tenderness were made on ribeye steaks from beef-Jersey cattle by Ohio State researchers. On average, the steaks evaluated at Ohio State qualified as USDA Certified Very Tender.

The sire

Perhaps what is still not discussed enough in the beef-dairy conversation is that sire selection matters. Unpublished data from our research group suggests that sire breed and genetic merit impact the tenderness and marbling of beef-dairy carcasses.

Over the course of a three-year investigation, ribeye steaks from Angus-Holstein steers were more tender than those from beef-Holstein steers sired by Charolais, Hereford, Limousin or Simmental bulls. On average, the ribeye steaks from beef-Holstein steers from all sire breeds, except Simmental, qualified for USDA Certified Tender, and those steaks from steers sired by Angus, Hereford and Limousin bulls qualified for USDA Certified Very Tender.

Measured intramuscular fat (IMF) was greatest in ribeye steaks from Angus-Holstein steers, while steaks from Charolais-Holstein, Limousin-Holstein and Simmental-Holstein steers had the least IMF.

Before we get hate mail from all the breed associations, it is critically important here to note that it is not just the breed of the beef sire that matters but the individual sire themselves. Any cow-calf producer interested in improving genetics carefully studies sire expected progeny differences (EPDs) before selecting the individual sire to use in a given year.

But in the feedlot, we have routinely discussed cattle in two ways: by origin (Mexican or U.S.) and by hide color. The 2022 NBQA reported that only 12% of fed cattle had Holstein-colored hides, down from 20% in 2016. No doubt, this shift was in response to the estimated 2.2 million beef-dairy calves in 2022, just under 10% of the annual fed cattle supply. That variation in sire genetics means that not all beef-dairy cattle are created equal, regardless of breed.

Sire EPDs for terminal traits should be carefully considered when selecting bulls to use in beef-dairy mating programs. A shining example of why selection matters comes from University of Arizona researchers. In 2023, Waller and colleagues reported that selecting Limousin sires that have a mutation in a single gene, myostatin, can reduce steak angularity, a common challenge with dairy-influenced genetics, without impacting other consumer acceptance parameters. The Arizona researchers observed that beef-dairy progeny that inherit a copy of the mutated myostatin gene from their sires did not have reduced tenderness.

Perhaps the biggest question that still surrounds beef-dairy production is the economic viability of the system. Valuation of beef-dairy progeny has been poorly quantified throughout the supply chain, in part due to the multiple changes in ownership throughout the life of the animal. Current markets in the Northeast value day-old beef-dairy cattle at up to $700. These markets are likely not sustainable, regardless of how good the meat may be. Prices will likely stabilize when (or if) the beef cow herd begins rebuilding. In the meantime, as dairy farmers continue to supply a portion of the nation’s fed beef supply, choosing the right sires to use for terminal beef-dairy matings will be important in maintaining consistent, high-quality desirable beef.