Management Topics

Jun 28, 2013

BIF Recap; breeding plan required

The Beef Improvement Federation’s (BIF) 45th Annual Research Symposium and Convention was held recently from June 12-15, 2013, in Oklahoma City, OK. The center of discussion was on the place of crossbreeding in today’s industry, feed efficiency and fitting cattle to the environment with straight-breeding vs. crossbreeding taking center stage.

Neville Spear of Western Kentucky University started by emphasizing “the increasing demand for, and subsequent emphasis upon, beef quality as well as increased prevalence of value-added programs.” According to Neville, this has primarily been driven by Angus programs (51 percent black

hide specification), and the almost linear increase in eating satisfaction with marbling score. Marbling genetics are where Angus, the predominate breed in this country, excels. He summed this up stating, “The industry needed to refocus to reward both efficiency and encourage production of high-quality cattle, carcasses and the ensuing beef products.”

Further speakers equated the level of heritability with the level of heterosis by trait type, with heterosis being defined as the trait units increase between the average of the parent breeds.

Traits that were highly heritable like carcass/end product, skeletal measurements and mature weight were low in heterosis (0 to 5 percent) while medium heritability traits like growth rate, birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, and milk production were medium in heterosis (5 to 10 percent), while low heritability traits like maternal ability, reproduction health, cow longevity and overall cow productivity were high (10 to 30 percent) in heterosis. This supports the above comments that people who get the most out of crossbreeding are the cow/calf producers and not the feeders.

Since reproduction is the most economically-relevant trait in the industry, Dave Daily of California State University, Chico, rhetorically asked, “What about the lowly-heritable [e.g. reproduction and general fitness] traits where you receive the greatest benefit from crossbreeding? What tools do we have for pregnancy rate, embryo survival, calf livability and lifetime productivity? NONE.

In terms of the economic bottom line from crossbreeding, we shouldn’t focus on short-term individual traits like gain and growth, but long-term profitability. That is where crossbreeding will make the greatest difference.”

The bottom line is that a well-planned crossbreeding system can result in up to 25 percent higher pounds of weaned calf over the lifetime of a commercial cow: a significant amount! Drs. Weaber and Spangler noted that, “The lack of utilization of crossbreeding can be broken down into those issues that are logistical in nature and those that represent a knowledge gap. Logistical issues revolve around developing a sustainable crossbreeding system that optimizes resources with gains in breed complementarity and heterosis. Failed crossbreeding programs can often be attributed to unnecessary complexity and failures in planning and implementation.

“Knowledge gaps exist relative to the biological benefits of heterosis, implementation of crossbreeding, and the economic benefits of crossbreeding. One of the most incorrect assumptions regarding heterosis is the inability to maintain phenotypic uniformity.”

Data from the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center has illustrated there is little difference in variation for several growth and carcass traits between composites and their purebred contemporaries.

According to Weaber and Spangler, “The pervasive thought that one breed can excel in all areas of production in a segmented and geographically diverse industry is simply not logical.

Every breed has strengths and weaknesses relative to an individual firm’s production and marketing goals. That is the benefit of crossbreeding, blending strengths from various breeds to meet production goals while fitting within environmental constraints, and heterosis becomes the reward for having done so. Consequently, knowledge of current breed differences, not historic generalizations, and honest accounting of environmental constraints coupled with identified marketing goals are among the first steps in developing a sustainable and profitable breeding system.”

The next day dovetailed in with the crossbreeding discussion when Dr. Lahman of Oklahoma State observed, “Selection for increased growth through weaning and increased milk should lead to increased weaning weights in commercial operations unless genetic expression for milk and growth is limited by the environment. Interestingly, there is no evidence of sustained increases in weaning weights in commercial cow/ calf operations since 2006.”

He concluded that, “From a low to moderate input commercial cow/calf operation perspective, failure to effectively utilize planned mating systems to maintain moderation in the cowherd while producing desirable calves for sale within the beef value chain may be leading us to a cow herd that is more expensive to maintain while actual production within the commercial sector may not be improving. Emphasizing moderation in growth, mature size, and milk for replacement females, combined with a modification in ranch stocking rate, would seem to better fit more cattle to existing forage resources given current industry trends.

“Commercial cow/calf producers are encouraged to emphasize new selection tools designed to minimize maintenance requirements of cows while maintaining or improving reproductive efficiency. Additionally, use of mating systems designed to maximize cowherd efficiency while maintaining high consumer acceptability in beef should aid producers in managing risk and increasing profitability.”

Cattle feeder Tom Brink summed it up. “Planned crossbreeding is not the problem; planned straight breeding is not the problem, but breeding cattle without any consistent plan is the PROBLEM!” — Dr. Bob Hough

[Dr. Bob Hough has served as the executive vice president of the Red Angus Association of America and more recently as executive vice president of the North American Limousin Foundation from 2009 to early 2011. He is now a consultant, freelance writer and semiretired.]