What association are you using to manage the genes in your cow-calf system?
Where do we start as we come to understand the modern world of genetics?
The beef cattle industry evolved through a fairly long but fair process. The process utilized color-coded data. If there was any deviation in the colored data, secondary data such as horns, hump, hair pattern, line backs or other color patterns could be used.
For those who never experienced such data, they probably never stood ringside and heard very experienced people proclaim how beef breeding systems that utilized different colors for horns, humps and hair to guide selection techniques could be used to establish the right cattle.
Once the basic criteria was established, skeletal frame, muscling type and fleshing ability were added to make sure a marketable product would be delivered to the packer. The system worked and cow-calf producers could understand the process readily.
What was said was also visual, so the end product could be seen and even felt if necessary. In a broad sense, this system of cattle breeding still exists today.
However, it is somewhat problematic because those color labels (phenotype) that were good indicators of the genotype involved are not as prevalent. The majority of cattle are now black, polled and smooth-haired. However, when looking at the hump, some regional differences still exist, particularly in warmer regions.
At the heart of historic cattle production was the knowledge that certain genotypes of cattle had very characteristic phenotypes. In other words, the genetic makeup of the cattle was stamped with obvious characteristic physical attributes.
These traits were good indicators of the cow-calf management required by the producers, as well as the associated management needed further down the beef supply chain. In addition, the market literally priced cattle based on color, horns, hump and hair. For example, Angus cattle were different than Hereford cattle in appearance and marketable end points. The differences brought about the expansion of sale barns that would sort cattle into uniform lots by frame and weight within phenotype.
However, crossbreeding then started. The many discussions about crossbreeding cattle essentially started with the well-known Black Baldy, which is a cross between purebred Angus and Hereford cattle. The early cross was very distinctive. The cattle were somewhat heterozygous (dominant and recessive traits) in genotype but still recognizable.
As producers, it still is fun to seek out Black Baldy cattle that are original crosses of purebred Angus and Herford cattle. The cattle still are distinct in color pattern and hair. However, those days are gone. Most of today's Black Baldy cattle have various breed makeups and have lost the "look."