More than ever, genetic influences impact herd profitability. That’s because beef producers now must target production to fit branded beef programs rather than just commodity beef. As buyers of cattle become more specific in what they need from producers, it’s up to you to identify that target to hit in order to obtain top market prices and avoid discounts.
Hitting that target requires making continual genetic improvement to meet both production and marketing goals. For commercial producers, that sometimes becomes a shot in the dark due to lack of understanding and awareness of tools available to help in the decision process.
Much of the genetic improvement goals depend on what producers are trying to do with their operation, says Blake Angell, director of commercial marketing with the Red Angus Association of America. This can be done by tracking progress to set benchmarks, then choosing traits for improvement.
“There’s tremendous information available on bulls’ differences between and within breeds,” says Jim Gosey, animal scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “That’s where crossbreeding, EPDs and profit indexes come into play.”
Utilize a planned crossbreeding program
A well-thought-out crossbreeding program is the simplest way to make genetic improvement thanks to hybrid vigor.
Colorado State University animal scientist Tom Field says that although selection within a breed is a useful tool, the maximum genetic benefit is typically obtained by exploiting breed differences through the creation of heterosis as a result of a planned crossbreeding system. “Hybrid vigor provides a buffer against environmental stress that allows crossbred animals to be more productive in some traits than the average of the parental breeds that originated the cross.” In particular, hybrid vigor boosts reproductive performance. That’s why good crossbred cows are the staple for many ranching operations.
A crossbreeding system, however, needs planning. “There are a lot of crossbred cattle out there, but not necessarily a lot of good crossbred programs,” says Keith Bertrand with the University of Georgia.
“The choice of a mating system depends on a careful assessment of the environmental and market constraints associated with a particular ranch,” Dr. Field points out. “Environmental considerations include forage availability, regularity of precipitation, feed costs, and the design of a grazing system that best utilizes and conserves the forage resources. The performance of progeny from the mating system should be appropriate for the desired market outlet.”