The virtuous loop

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This fall’s discussion about breeding systems has very old roots, but a recent shoot comes from Nevil Speer’s November 2011 white paper, “Crossbreeding: Considerations and Alternatives in an Evolving Market.” Far from promoting an agenda, Speer simply pointed to economic facts that explain why a great number of successful ranchers do not take advantage of the proven benefits of crossbreeding.

The culture of crossbreeding in beef cattle science has become so entrenched among many within the industry that any suggestion of alternative logic is met with harsh criticism. The November guest editorial in reminded us of “indisputable” science and warned us not to be “foolish” as it proceeded with the assumption that the American Angus Association has dismissed those crossbreeding advantages. In fact, we have no doubt that the science of heterosis meshes with business for many successful cattlemen.

Many cattlemen have other ideas, however, and today, by maintaining an exclusive focus on Angus genetics, they are enjoying at least equal success with those who crossbreed.

Perhaps more importantly, the white paper and recent national advertisements demonstrate that commercial producers are increasingly investing in longer-term goals; they want to avoid the whims of a commodity market. And within that context, they’re making serious, long-term decisions about their seedstock. Many of them are choosing to straightbreed, offsetting efficiencies gained by heterosis with market premiums for uniformity, color, breed type and carcass quality.

Long term, the economy does not suffer fools. Those who find ways to include most aspects of crossbreeding on the ranch while improving beef quality are to be commended. Those who acknowledge and weigh all the science and yet prefer the straightbred Angus route to profitable business have earned the beef industry’s respect. After all, their success is often called impossible.

This is not a breed battle by any means. Our common ground is the effort to win more consumers over to increasingly expensive beef through whatever means possible to deliver the best product profitably. That “virtuous loop” is the only model producers can use to keep bringing new money into the production chain instead of just trading dollars among segments.

In other words, it’s no longer about just raising cows; it’s about having a plan for growing this business.

During the last 20 years, thousands of cow- calf operations have exited our industry. Our market share continues to give ground to pork and poultry. Consumer demand for commodity beef has remained relatively flat.

While we accept the fact that in any free market there will be winners and losers, we also need to recognize that those who remain are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Industry data tell us that today’s producers are increasingly inclined to be price makers rather than price takers, and therein lies the “virtuous loop” mentality: Quality, consistency, efficiency and volume are all essential to creating demand. And the more we establish that effort on the supply side, the more demand we create among consumers.

With this in mind, the American Angus Association launched a new advertising campaign in October asking commercial producers to consider the advantages of producing quality and consistency through straightbred genetics.

The October lead editorial in Drovers/CattleNetwork called the campaign “bold and new.” In fact, Angus advertising has advanced straightbred advantages since at least the 1980s. In actuality, what really is bold and new is how most other breed associations now promote crossbreeding with Angus rather than focusing on what their breeds have to offer the industry.

Given the drought and the high cost of feed, land and labor, we think it’s time to talk about how a breed can play a role in expanding this business for ranchers, feeders and every stakeholder in the beef industry during one of the most volatile and high-risk periods in memory.

If the advertising series has a main goal, it is to help producers evaluate the merits of the “Angus opportunity,” an all-encompassing concept that includes not only a great breed of cattle but also the opportunity to reduce risk through the use of one of the world’s most comprehensive genetic evaluation systems and add value through the growth and consumer demand of the Certified Angus Beef brand.

So again, while we fully acknowledge the benefits of heterosis, simply asking producers to capitalize on hybrid vigor for its own sake, or to believe that “best science equals best business,” is not a plan for making tomorrow a better day for our industry. And it’s not a way to add value in the eyes of consumers.

Editor’s note: Nevil Speer’s white paper is available at or

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December, 10, 2012 at 04:41 PM

"This is not a breed battle by any means." Of course it is. Who are you trying to kid? This is a campaign to make Angus the Holstein of the beef world. By the way, significant numbers of progressive dairy operations are now crossbreeding. I wonder why? We all know Angus are superior in marbling. But marbling is not the only factor important to cow-calf producers, especially those who do not retain ownership beyond weaning and this is still the vast majority of producers.

Nebraska  |  December, 10, 2012 at 08:06 PM

This article is simply wrong. When science and economics is being ignored, you have got to look at what the argument is then trying to accomplish. Cattlemen are taken as fools to be fed this stuff and not expect them to have a bad reaction to it. Who benefits from a cattle industry that moves to less efficient production of single type of resulting product which may be good for many markets, but not fulfilling of all needs. Angus seedstock producers singly benefit. Them only. The result of this would be the weakening and loss of highly valuable "other breed" genetics and the ability to fulfill the highly varied niches of the beef palate and the cattleman's forage situation. The Angus arrogance is amazing but their support from the cattle press is even more amazing. Where are our "independent" university livestock specialist hiding?

KY  |  December, 11, 2012 at 07:51 AM

I agree with Bill. For nearly five decades now, our rather small all-forage operation has depended mainly upon Hereford and Polled Hereford genetics. Within the Hereford breed, we have access to heterosis without going outside the breed. There are linebred horned cattle and linebred polled cattle. Crossing bulls from a polled line with cows that carry some horned genetics, or vice versa, always gives our calves a genetic punch of extra growth. Linebreeding improves the consistency within a segment of the breed. When our bull customers use purebred Hereford sires, horned or polled, on their purebred Angus (or Brangus, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Salers, Simmental, etc.) they get calves that carry a three-way cross that is highly suitable for the feedlot. In addition, they get improved efficiency, temperament, maternal ability, and the ability to convert grass to quality protein with highly acceptable marbling. One of the hallmarks of the Hereford breed from its beginning in the 1720s was that it can get along just fine without expensive corn. Conversion of grass to beef will be more important in the future, as grain prices continue to reflect the shortage of grain for feeding both people and their energy needs. It would seem that Angus breeders have been overpowered by their own advertising campaigns into thinking that Angus and beef are synonymous. Their association will do better to encourage Angus breeders to partner with their customers instead of trying to convert every breed to black. A well-bred black baldy cow can't be beat for productivity. And yes, black Herefords have already been crossbred.

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