Crossbreeding Beef Cattle

       An old familiar term in beef cattle circles is "Crossbreeding Beef Cattle is all in the Genes."

     Crossbreeding really took off in the 1970s, and a host of breeds began flowing into the United States. Since that time, studies have shown there has been a clear increase in production through the use of cross-bred cow herds, so its benefits and impact to the cattle rancher can not underestimated.

      There is always a period of what is known as "inbreeding depression" with any new breed of livestock, when conception is reduced and survival rates noticeably decrease. But, properly managed, crossbreeding eventually restores and strengthens the herd, noticeably increasing reproduction and longevity.

This advantage gained from the sum of both parents is known as heterosis or hybrid vigor, and is demonstrable when a smaller framed cow breed is bred with a larger framed breed. The resulting calve will not necessarily be larger than the largest parent, but it will be larger than the smaller parent. Therefore, the new breed has a larger frame size overall, thus increasing the size of the herd over time. The benefits of heterosis manifest themselves in maternal, growth and carcass traits. These include improvements to daily growth, quality of the beef, among others. By selecting different cows with different traits to crossbreed, you can achieve different benefits through heterosis. Combining a different breed to meet marketing goals or fit into a different range environment is known as complimentary crossbreeding.

 Benefits Outweigh the Costs
While crossbreeding benefits can yield higher productivity in both dairy and beef cattle, you must also remember that this increased production also means an increase in care of the herd. Forage costs and amounts will go up when a cow produces more milk. Larger cattle require more food to sustain themselves as well. The costs of increased feed amounts are largely outweighed by the benefits of a stronger more productive and more marketable herd, though, so don’t let increased food or other costs deter you from establishing a cross-breeding system.

      In the U.S., no beef cattle is superior to another, and breeds should instead be chosen and crossbred based on other factors, such as climate, desired product and production goals. Prior to establishing a crossbreeding system, make sure to determine exactly what you want the outcome of your herd to be and become acutely aware of the nutritional values in available feed and the local climatology.

 Do the Homework, Know your Breeds
Also, different breed strengths usually come with other, less favorable, weaknesses. Certain breeds, for example, may increase the overall growth rate of the herd; however, one of their weaknesses may be less ability to store fat for times of low nutrition. Make sure to study the pros and cons of each breed. You can set limits on the amount of effect you would like a particular breed to influence the herd as well, using different breeds to crossbreed with a smaller percentage of the herd to obtain desired results in a select few of your cattle.

      Also, remember cattle need to be managed according to the crossbreeding system you’ve established. Additional pastures may be necessary to keep certain types separated. For smaller areas, rotational crossbreeding has proven an effective technique, and is more manageable for the smaller rancher.

      As with any crossbreeding system; however, make sure it is well planned, managed and documented to avoid missteps.

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