This is an era where you can customize virtually anything imaginable, from license plates and jewelry to M&Ms and burgers.
As the beef industry moves forward, will customized breeding plans become more common?
“I teach students to develop a breed utilization plan based on their marketing objectives,” says Joe Cassady, animal scientist at North Carolina State University. “The decision regarding the use of straightbreeding versus crossbreeding should be based on marketing objectives and maximizing profits.”
For decades, industry and academia have pointed to crossbreeding and hybrid vigor as one of the easiest strategies available to boost earnings. But a new discussion is emerging.
“Profit should be based on net return on assets. That requires a good understanding of costs of production,” he says.
That can be harder for producers to quantify than many care to admit. According to a 2011 survey, only 40% of operations keep individual cow records and less than 5% of producers participate in any type of standardized analysis.
“Weaning weight is a primary driver of revenue,” says emeritus beef specialist Steve Hammack, of Texas A&M University, but it’s not the only one. Reproduction, selling price and costs figure into the equation, too, he says.
So how can a rancher capture the highest price for his product at the lowest cost to produce it?
“It’s very easy to suggest that a single change in management practice is going to provide the magic bullet with which we can turn a system around, yet this is seldom the case,” says Jude Capper, Washing State University animal scientist. “We have to advocate for continuous improvement in all systems and across all sectors rather than targeting a single management practice as ‘the answer.’”
When looking to increase weaning weights, cattlemen using a crossbreeding system often realize 3.9% improvement, according to a recent California State University report.
Several surveys of commercial herd operators in the past 10 years indicate at least 70% of the nation’s cowherd is Angus-influenced, and a 2008 survey noted 58% of those are straightbred Angus herds. That suggests a significant number of producers are turning to that breed as an alternative to the crossbred advantages.
The U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) publishes sire averages for major beef breeds. For 2010-born calves, Charolais leads the weaning-weight category with more than 599 pounds (lb.), followed by Brahman (592), Simmental (591), Tarentaise (584) and Angus (582). Angus closes the gap in yearling weight at 1,036 lb.—second only to Charolais at 1,041.