Much of your success in the beef business hinges on the genetics of your cow herd, or — if you’re a stocker operator or a cattle feeder — your ability to buy and manage someone else’s genetics.
Indeed, given the multiple challenges you face that are beyond your control — drought, rising feed and fuel costs, escalating land values — genetic selection may be the single most important component of your operation that you control. That’s why a couple of messages contained in this month's issue of Drovers/CattleNetwork are so important. Both messengers want you as a customer while our industry begins rebuilding from this year’s devastating drought.
The messengers are two of America’s most respected breed organizations, the American Angus Association and the American Hereford Association. Together these two breeds provide a genetic influence on the majority of commercial herds. Both breeds have a rich tradition and a long list of prominent breeders to their credit. Both breeds also have successful branded-beef programs that carry their name.
But their advertising messages this fall are vastly different. One is more traditional, the other more bold and, most assuredly, controversial.
Let’s begin with the more traditional message, brought to you by the American Hereford Association. An advertising insert attached to page 11 of this month's issue makes the case for using Hereford genetics in your herd. For instance, research at various universities has documented the outstanding qualities of Hereford females, calving ease, docility and the breed’s feed efficiency. Hereford is America’s second-largest breed registry, with 70,260 registrations, 37,091 transfers and 101,021 cows in the breed’s inventory.
The new, bold message — that prompts this column — comes from the American Angus Association. By all accounts, Angus has become a dominant force in the American cattle industry and is currently the nation’s largest registry with 294,975 animals registered in 2011. Surveys suggest about 70 percent of the nation’s cow herd now carries at least some Angus genetic influence. And, right or wrong, black-hided calves often bring a premium at auction.
The Angus message — found on pages 18 and 19 of this month's issue — goes beyond touting the breed’s qualities and characteristics. Indeed, the starting point for the advertisement assumes that you already know a lot about the quality of Angus genetics that provide benefits to both producers and consumers. That’s why the Angus Association is asking commercial cowmen to go all Angus. In other words, Angus is asking you to forego the use of crossbreeding.
That, no doubt, will be a controversial subject of debate and discussion in the months and maybe years ahead. After all, for decades cattlemen have been told of the advantages of crossbreeding. Extension publications suggest, “crossbreeding can increase the performance of any herd with little to no additional costs to the producer.” In short, crossbreeding was often referred to as the “free lunch” in the cattle business.
Now, Angus is proposing that with its genetic infusion in your herd the free lunch is already included.
That proposal to America’s commercial breeders is likely to anger a lot of purebred breeders of Hereford, Charolais, Red Angus, Gelbvieh, Limousin, Simmental, Shorthorn, Brangus and all other breeds.
The argument here is not for crossbreeding or straightbreeding — I’ll leave such a debate to those much more qualified.
However, the folks at the American Angus Association have just accepted a huge challenge and responsibility. The challenge is for the breed’s staff and breeders to live up to the proposition they are offering the commercial cattle industry. And the responsibility they are undertaking cannot be overstated: At a time when beef production is set to decline and retail prices are likely to increase substantially, Angus and everyone else must work to ensure satisfactory eating experiences are achieved with a high degree of probability.
The track record of Angus cattle and the American Angus Association suggests they are up to such a challenge.
But a challenge also lies before all other breeds, their staffs and breeders. The Angus Association is clearly coming after your market share. Are you prepared to answer that challenge?
As American ranchers begin to recover from the monster drought of 2012, they’ll rebuild and restock their herds. They’ll make genetic decisions that will have an impact for years on their ranch’s profitability and on consumer satisfaction.
Some of them will crossbreed. Some of them will straightbreed. But the responsibility for quality and safety belongs to us all.