It's a question I've been asked several times over the last few months as I've mentioned our farm's gradual transition from dairy to beef, and there are really three different directions for our dairy herd to go.
|Our dairy herd will naturally shrink by|
breeding for more beef crossbreeds and
fewer Holstein replacement heifers.
The first direction (and most critical to our transition) is that we will shrink it by having fewer replacement heifers. Until recently, our breeding program has been designed to yield roughly 80 Holstein heifers each year which would in turn join the milking herd once they have their first calf around two years of age. We changed strategies last year, which should result in roughly 60 Holstein heifers when our current calving season ends in a few weeks. We are currently breeding to only get roughly 30 Holstein heifers in the next calving season as we are focused more on the cross-bred calves we need to get our commercial beef herd established.
The second direction for our dairy cows is the beef market. Culling is a normal practice among dairies as we move out lower producing cows to make room for the replacement heifers. In our case, we send our cull cows to one of the local stockyards where they are bought and sent to slaughter. We have enough replacement heifers to keep our milking herd at its current level for another 2.5 years if we maintain our normal culling rate, so over half the cows we are currently milking will leave the farm through this process.
The third direction for our dairy cows is to be sold to other dairies. Once we get ready to close the book on dairy farming, we will look to sell the majority of our producing cows to dairies with expansion plans. Whether that's done by auction or private arrangement is yet to be seen and will largely be determined by cattle prices. Any that don't sell for milk production will be sold for beef.
Some people have asked about the fate of specific cows that I highlight on social media, such as Ms. Nosey and Trouble. Those two are both likely to fall in that second category based on their age, but both are currently pregnant, physically sound, and should be around for a good while longer. I wrote a blog a few years ago that deals with the issue of parting with favorite cows, and I invite you to read it if you're interested in the intersection of sentimentality and business. ("Saying Goodbye to Ol' Number 07")