Playing With Cattle Genetics

Reader Contribution by Milk Maid
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So, what’s so new about breeding cattle and playing with cattle genetics? Well, with so many people homesteading and many only have a cow or two, a bull doesn’t have to be in the barnyard or pasture 365 days a year. The expense alone just to buy a bull would make some of your mouths drop. Cattle prices in the U.S. have jumped up in the past few years, and it’s not uncommon to pay a few thousand dollars for a bull. Then feeding him will be costly and if there are cows on the common fence, well, that’s a problem in itself.

We have one short-legged Irish Dexter cow and one standard Jersey heifer. Why would I need to buy a bull? Well, I didn’t. My Polled, red Dexter bull was born to me, and he is what I wanted from his dam. At weaning, she was sold because I wanted to keep him. Sometimes I can get creative with names but really, he is a Red Bull, get it? I don’t drink the stuff but I do like that red bull on the can so the name fit for two different reasons. 

Please keep in mind with most of the standard-sized cattle breeds, the bulls need to be 18 months to 2 years of age before they can cause a cow to get pregnant. Not so with the Irish Dexter. Red Bull was 38 inches tall and 10 months old when he bred Mahogany and she took (got pregnant) the first time he bred her. She’s due in March. The month he turned a year, he bred the Jersey heifer. I hear some of you laughing. Yes, he did reach, and at that time he was 40 inches tall. Jersey cows are taller than a Dexter bull, and he’s a long-legged Dexter by the way. Still shorter than a standard Jersey cow, but believe me, when a bull is following a heifer in her cycle, he’ll figure it out. He did, and she is due in June. She took the first time also, as I expected.

Well, here’s where the “Playing” comes in. I’ll try to make it simple, not promising that.

Down the road from me is a dairy. Over the years, the owner, his wife and I have come to know each other and we talk about our cows and goats. They are from Holland, and when we met and I said I have Dexters, their faces lit up. They love them but Dexters don’t produce the amount of milk they need to make a living. Well, we got to talking about my Jersey heifer and all the milk she’ll be producing next year, really, do I need 6 to 7 gallons per day? NO! So, we got to laughing about the cross of the Holstein and my Dexter bull. It got to the point that we made a deal for me to get two heifer calves, so they can nurse the Jersey cow, by my bull and out of my neighbor’s cows.

So, the day came and I delivered the bull after he had his shots, wormed and semen tested to make sure he had enough stuff to do the job. The vet said, “He has enough and then some, if he can reach.” I already knew he could.

The dairymen picked out 10 virgin heifers for Red Bull and, looking at him next to them, they were Amazons. I could see him reaching a few. Red Bull was there for a month, and as I drove by every day, I’d stop and walk through the herd or just watch from the road. One day, Red Bull was head to head with a heifer, pushing her to the manure pile. He got her to the right place, climbed the pile and bred her. I was in my truck laughing so hard and noticed the owner in his loader doing the same. We both have plenty of funny stories to tell about Red Bull’s visit.

The day came when he had to come home. The owner said he wanted to show me a heifer. We went into the pen of about 75 head of short yearlings, meaning they have not reached a year old yet. He was looking for a shorter (in height) heifer that was 50 percent Holstein-50 percent Belgian Blue. Here’s the link if anyone wants to see a double muscled breed. And here’s a little beef lesson. Holstein cattle do not produce meat on their bones. They are a milk-producing animal. Please don’t waste your time and money raising a Holstein steer for the freezer. He’ll eat more than the amount of meat you’ll end up with.

The owner has “played” with AI’ing (Artificial Insemination) some of his Holsteins with Belgian Blue semen and adding more meat to the offspring. With their family of six that includes four sons, they need the meat aspect. Well, I see this heifer, there’s no doubt she is half Belgian Blue. He wants to breed her to Red Bull.

For those of us who love the genetics of our livestock, we find this very interesting. This heifer is 50 percent heavy milk producer/50-percent heavy beef producer. Her calf will be 50 percent Dexter, which is a milk and beef producer in a smaller bovine (cow), and 25 percent each of the other two breeds I mentioned. Heifer or bull calf, it will be mine, and waiting to see this youngster seems eons away right now. It will be interesting, and as I am but one breeder of Miniature Alpines in the U.S., there may just be a new breed of milk/meat producing cattle in the making.

I do have to say this, there have been others who have asked me about using Red Bull to breed their cows. Please keep this in mind: When your bull goes to another farm to breed cows, there is a risk he’ll come home “dirty.” This means the cows he breeds may have an infection or an illness that he will get by breeding them (VD). Red Bull will be tested for VD before going to each farm and tested again when he leaves so I know he is “clean.” The best way to keep him safe is to have him breeding only virgin heifers. I know, you say someone will slip in a dirty cow and that is possible. That’s what testing the bull is for. If he’s tested before and after breeding, you’ll know where he picked it up, and he will be treated quickly for it. He also won’t go back there for breeding. It’s a gamble.

Miniature Alpine dairy goats are being developed here in the U.S. along with other mini dairy goat breeds.

Suzy Minck lives in Stephenville, Texas, on Milk Maid Ranch with her husband of 30 years and has been breeding livestock for 31 years. 

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