Quality Milk and Quality Beef

Dr. Steve Boyles, Extension Beef Specialist, The Ohio State University

Dairy cows are a major source of beef. Cows marketed to slaughter can represent up to 15% of a dairy's income. Meat packers are implementing Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plans and are focusing on the quality of cattle coming into the packing plant.

Dairy producers contribute to the beef supply through elimination of cull cows and bulls (non-fed beef). Approximately one-third of the total non-fed beef production originates from dairy cows, and one-half of all cows processed for beef in the U.S. are dairy cattle. Dairy producers were losing approximately $70 for every cow and bull marketed due to quality defects.

Some people think that the beef from cull cattle is used for ground beef. Products from the rib and round areas are used to form deli and steak sandwich meats. Ribeye steaks and tenderloins from cull cows and bulls are marketed to "family" steakhouses. There are strategies that producers may use to prevent monetary losses and improve the quality of beef from culled animals.

Injection Site Lesions

A Colorado State University (CSU) study found 58% of rounds from dairy carcasses had at least one injection site. A majority of these abscesses were in the back of the leg and were the result of intramuscular injections. Avoid intramuscular injections when possible (i.e., use subcutaneous). If no alternative exists, consider injecting products in the neck or shoulder region. No more than 10 cc of any product should be administered in any one-injection site.

Drug Residues

Dairy cows and veal calves are the two classes of cattle with the greatest violation of antibiotic residues according to the USDA National Residue Monitoring program. Withdrawal time is often not the same for meat and milk.

Lame Cattle

An average of $70 is lost for every disabled or non-ambulatory cow processed. Processing costs increase because of carcass trimming due to increased bruising and the likelihood that the carcass will be condemned. Decrease the incidence of downer cows by selling cull animals prior to deterioration of health.

Hide Damage

Hide defects among dairy cows cost producers $5.21 per head, or 16.6 million dollars annually. Damage to hides usually results from brands, scratches, and (or) insect/parasite infestation. Eliminate sharp, protruding objects in milking and handling areas. An external parasite program should reduce insect and parasite damage to hides. If possible, move the brand from the rib to the rump region and this will reduce the amount of leather that tanners have to remove from the hide. Most folks don't want your cow number in the middle of their leather car seat!

Body Condition

Cows in poor condition are more susceptible to bruising. Cows with excess body fat must be trimmed in order to market a more desirable carcass. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) audit calculated the following value losses due to carcass characteristics:

Value Lost per Animal
Yellow external fat
Dark cutting
Inadequate muscle
Over fat
Light weight

Source: NCBA/CSU, 1999.

Consider putting market cows that are in poor body condition on feed for a short time before marketing them. Feed the refusal feed from the milking string plus a little grain. If a cow is lame, it gives her time to heal. Keeping them on a dirt lot would be great.

A Cornell study found that fattening cows from 70 to 90 days prior to marketing could add body weight, result in a more desirable fat color, and give producers the opportunity to watch for higher market price days to sell.


Dairy cows at the end of their productive lives have been considered cull cows. These cows can contribute one last time to the bottom line of a dairy farm.