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Spreadsheets & Calculators
All About Genetics
The genetic goal of the beef herd should be to have a herd of cows that will thrive in their given environment without large amounts of supplemental feed. The cows need to raise a big calf EVERY year and breed back on schedule EVERY year. It is common for us to have cows that produce for 12-16 years of age. Buying bulls from these cows gives you daughters that will be productive for many, many years in your herd.
We know that feed cost is the number one factor in profitability of the beef herd. So, if we’re in the Midwest, we want a cow that can go out and survive on crop residues such as corn stalks for 60-70 days during the winter. We want cows that are good foragers and can go out and take care of themselves on the forage that is available. We don’t want to have to haul feed to cows much of the year. That is a guaranteed formula for financial failure in the herd. One of my Grandfather’s famous quotes was “If you don’t waste a dollar, it’s all profit”. This fits beef cattle to a “T”. Unfortunately, I see many times where people are wasting dollars on excessive nutrition because the genetics are not correct for the farm. Our cattle work for you, not the other way around.
Your cow herd should be made up of 100% crossbred cows. Heterosis is nearly free and cannot be overlooked. The initial research that showed that heterosis was beneficial was done in the 1930’s! 80 years ago we knew crossbreeding was the right thing to do and today we are definitely straying from that knowledge. It is very disheartening to see that many producers are using the same breed of bull year after year. Examine the information below and you will see how important heterosis is to your herd.
Advantages of Crossbred Cows
· 2-6% increase in calf survivability
· 4% increase in feedlot growth
· 16-38% increase in longevity of cows
· 6% increase in weaning rate
· 9-23% increase in # calf weaned/cow exposed
· 6-9% increase in weaning weight of calves
· 25% increase in lifetime productivity of cows
There is no other management tool that is more efficient than crossbreeding for improving total calf production in a cowherd.
Research at Montana State University showed that on average a crossbred cow returned $70 per year more profit than a purebred cow, each and every year. So, in a 100 cow herd, that’s $7,000 extra per year net profit.
Definition of composite:
A complex material such as fiberglass in which two or more distinct, structurally complimentary substances combine to provide some properties not present in any individual component.
Definition of composites in cattle:
A carefully planned combination of complimentary breeds designed to produce a uniform offspring.
Having uniform offspring is a goal of every beef producer and using composite bulls on crossbred cows gives you a MORE uniform calf crop compared to using purebred bulls. Composite (some people still use the word crossbred, which is different) is a step beyond crossbreeding.
An example of a composite is a Beefmaster. A Beefmaster is 1/2 Brahman, 1/4 Shorthorn, and 1/4 Hereford. The Stabilizer or the MARC II is a composite that is 1/4 each of Red Angus, Hereford, Simmental, and Gelbvieh. There are many other composites now emerging as we find that these are ideal for many situations.
The American Gelbvieh Association has trademarked the term “Balancer” for their composite of Angus and Gelbvieh (must be ¼ – ¾ of each breed). The main reason composites have become more popular is that you can maintain a fairly consistent percentage of breeds that fit your environment. You can buy a composite bull of genetics that you have found that fit your herd year after year instead of vacillating between more extremes. So instead of a two, three or four breed rotation, you simply buy a bull that’s exactly what you want in the end.
My prediction is that 20 years from now, you’ll see more composite bulls sold than purebreds. The swine industry has gone that way in the last 20 years and the poultry industry has been that way for even longer. Our bull buyers think that a ½ – ¾ Angus, ¼ – ½ Gelbvieh or Simmental cow is near ideal for their beef cattle business. Buying bulls near these genetics allows you to continue to have a herd with optimal heterosis.
Herd genetics have a large impact on herd productivity and profitability. Fit your cows to your environment, buy bulls for your market and always have 100% crossbred cows.
Definition of crossbreeding:
The combination of 2 or more breeds.
Definition of heterosis:
The superiority of the crossbred animal as compared to the AVERAGE of the parents. Heterosis is the same as hybrid vigor. Heterosis has the greatest benefits on more lowly heritable traits. For example, fertility is a lowly heritable trait, so crossbreeding can be very helpful for a herd with fertility problems. On the other hand, ribeye area is a very highly heritable trait, so you would get very little benefit to ribeye size simply by crossbreeding.
In crossbreeding you get increased amounts of hybrid vigor the more diverse of the breeds you use. So, if you cross two British breeds like Angus with Hereford, you gain a moderate amount of heterosis. But if you cross that Angus to a Gelbvieh, which is a Continental breed, you would gain even more hybrid vigor. But, if you crossed that same Angus with a Brahman which is Bos indicus instead of Bos taurus, this would produce the most hybrid vigor.
Just like everything in beef production, we are not targeting maximums. We want optimum hybrid vigor for the herd. You just need to know that you have increasing hybrid vigor the more diverse the breeds. That is why it is advantageous to use some Continental genetics in most herds.