The Great Debate

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Last month, Greg Henderson outlined in his editorial a growing debate involving the opposing positions of the American Hereford Association and the American Angus Association regarding crossbreeding. He referred to the recently released Hereford advertising campaign that acknowledges the science behind crossbreeding versus the American Angus Association’s position of promoting the straight breeding of Angus genetics.

He described the Hereford message of crossbreeding as “traditional,” while the Angus message was described as “bold” and “new.” I’m not sure if there are any genetic-selection decisions made today that are “bold” and “new” — the Hereford and Angus breeds have been in existence in America since the early 1800s. However, there is plenty to talk about when it comes to how the two breeds have been and should continue to be used as tools to complement one another in a profitable beef system.

Indisputable scientific research within the animal science community has documented the advantages of crossbreeding, and the American Hereford Association has replicated scientific results in recent years supporting the historic findings.

Studies conducted at some of the premier commercial ranches in the country have defined the economic advantages of crossbreeding with Hereford and, in particular, the advantage a baldie feeder steer and his replacement heifer mate carry in comparison to their straight-bred Angus counterparts.

The recent studies with Lacey Land and Livestock, Harris Ranch, Circle A Ranch and Simplot Livestock Co. have reaffirmed what has already long been known but would be foolish to dismiss during these extreme times of drought, input cost volatility and short cattle supplies.

My point to this article and to future conversations coming out of the American Hereford Association office is not to disparage the Angus breed. The Angus breed is an essential component to future beef-industry success and consumer satisfaction, with global recognition of its end product. However, the Hereford breed is poised to complement the Angus cow base in America in a way that will maintain beef quality and enhance rancher profits even further.

Not any one breed has an exclusive on the genes that influence traits leading to profitability. Cattle are not raised in confinement or a controlled environment, and Mother Nature has not been too kind to the U.S. beef industry in recent times.

Heterosis is a key component to survivability for all species when times are tough. The fact that the Hereford breed is making such a resurgent comeback is testament to a response by the commercial sector to rethink its genetic-selection strategy to address the issues that a tough environment has placed on single-breed selection. It is also a testament to the advances the Hereford breed has made in the last decade in breed improvement.

The American Angus Association will promote the fact that crossbreeding is focused too far on maximizing production while the industry has changed to a value-based specification beef-marketing system. We can certainly agree that specification marketing is dominating modern beef production and will continue to be enhanced over time; however, the Achilles heel of single-breed genetic selection will always be centered on the most important profit drivers of the industry — fertility and survival.

Without a live, healthy calf, there is no quality beef. Years of crossbreeding research have documented the advantages of crossbreeding in improving fertility. Recent studies across various environments have reported a 7 percent advantage in pregnancy and calving rates in baldie cows when compared to straight Angus cows. This is one issue that cannot be ignored.

Furthermore, the additional small additive effects from crossbreeding such as cow longevity, weaning weights, immune response, feed efficiency, etc., are essential additional advantages delivered from crossbreeding.

The beef industry has taken a beating in recent years relative to contraction. As the climatic environment trends back to normalcy, there will be an economic incentive for expansion. While other breeds of cattle have made their product more similar to Angus, it will be the Hereford breed with its very different genetic make-up that will truly complement the Angus breed by improving fertility and calf survivability, as well as weaning weights, feed efficiency and disposition while reducing replacement female costs over time. Plus the end product from the Hereford-Angus cross will meet and exceed the quality expectations of a host of breed-specific brands that are growing in popularity both at home and abroad, including the American Hereford Association’s very own Certified Hereford Beef.

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Joe C. Paschal    
South Texas  |  November, 19, 2012 at 03:28 PM

Kuddos to you Craig! No one has ever said that the big black cattle can go everywhere and do everything. If they could we would lots more of them! If you are in the right environment, can produce truck load lots of calves to feed and sell directly for a premium then straight breeding with the right genetics for feed efficiency, health and carcass merit might work. For others, maybe 90% or more of us, planned crossbreeding with an eye for the economic input/output will remain key. Enough of this senseless argument! We are all in the beef business

Michael E. Dikeman    
Manhattan, KS  |  November, 20, 2012 at 10:28 AM

Craig's article is excellent! I don't understand why any breed association would advocate 'not crossbreeding'. The data cited by the AAA was for feedlot and carcass data and did not consider heterosis benefits for fertility, calf survival, longevity of females, cow maintenance requirements, and, as Craig stated, survivability in drought and other harsh climatic conditions. Angus cattle cross exceptionally well with Herfords, Charolais, Simmental and several other breeds. Why advise producers to not crossbreed with those three breeds?

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