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Improving efficiency: Planned crossbreeding generates profit

Clifford Mitchell Published on 24 July 2012
Calf milks mom

Crossbreeding is a tool the forefathers of ranching knew they needed to take advantage of to make a better beef animal.

Competitors in the protein market take advantage of this every day to make a more efficient production system.

Even the dairy industry is utilizing this tool to either improve longevity or to increase butterfat content in the milk.

Planned crossbreeding systems can pay dividends to the commercial cow-calf operator.

“Controlled crossbreeding systems enhances the productivity of the cow herd and helps make them work in a specific environment,” says Scott Greiner, extension beef specialist at Virginia Tech University.

“Sometimes producers don’t crossbreed with a plan. Choose the right breeds for the cowherd makeup. In hotter climates, finding the right percentage of Brahman blood is important,” says Jane Parish, extension beef specialist at Mississippi State University.

Record market prices have allowed cattlemen to rest on their laurels rather than fine-tune the production system. Costs of production have had an adverse affect on the good market, keeping profit margins low.

“One of the dangers of a high calf market is producers sometimes don’t do enough to keep improving. How much more money could a cow-calf operator be making if he worked on efficiency?” Parish says.

“Planned crossbreeding can help producers in a lot of ways and it doesn’t cost anything extra to do it.”

“From a cow-calf perspective, producers have to control costs regardless of calf price,” Greiner says.

“Reproduction becomes pretty important when it comes to controlling costs, spreading those fixed and variable costs over more calves and more pounds.”

Using a planned crossbreeding system to design the cow factory will help the cowherd adapt to the environment and utilize available resources.

This same blend of genetics should also be tailored toward the market goals of the operation.

“You can’t build too much reproduction or longevity into the cow herd. You can have too much milk or growth for your environment.

Compatibility with production environment is very important and is going to change from region to region, even farm to farm in some cases,” Greiner says.

“Mature size, milk production and body condition score are related and will depend on the amount of nutrition available.

Cow size will be a little different from producer to producer because they are deriving income with different goals in mind.”

“Match the cow herd with the environment and resources. Design the crossbreeding system with traits that are important,” Parish says. “Select for balanced traits – too much emphasis on one trait could throw off the system.

Breeds that fit the system will vary a little depending on if you’re retaining heifers, utilizing a terminal cross system or raising replacements to sell to other producers.”

Crossbreed toolbox

Producers have tools in place to help select genetics for their environment. Utilize breed combinations that will produce the desired end product.

“Decide what breed combination will work best in your environment and get there with a crossbreeding system.

There are coat color differences and hair length differences that will hamper production in some areas.

We’re doing a hair coat length study right now and you will not believe the difference in weaning weights from the cows that slick off to the cows that don’t,” Parish says.

“This is a classic example of choosing genetics that don’t fit the environment. Identify the type of animal that will go to work.”

“Goals will influence the composition of the crossbred female. Producers need to identify what breed compositions will work to produce females with ideal cow size for your environment,” Greiner says.

“Breed compositions will vary depending on the marketing system. You’re going to choose different genetics if you retain ownership versus marketing feeder calves.”

The system should be designed for females to have long productive lives in the cowherd. Most producers simply look at replacing cows in the system as a fact of life and do not realize the cost.

“When you look at the value of that heifer – what it costs to get her in production or purchasing bred heifers in an inflated market – it costs a lot to replace a female.

With current costs in place it will take a number of years to make her profitable,” Greiner says. “Keeping females in the herd because they have some longevity is a way to generate profit. You don’t lose a year of production or incur replacement costs.”

Fitting your needs

Tailoring which crossbreeding system is best for the operation could be a challenge for some producers.

Low supplies, even though it helps at the marketplace, could force some producers to change the crossbreeding system because of the availability of top females.

“Replacements could be cost-prohibitive for some producers to be in a terminal cross program. Some ranchers will be able to utilize different sires to create replacements or steer calves that maximize pounds,” Parish says.

“Obviously, this will not work for the one bull unit. In some cases, it will be practical to work with neighbors to utilize the same genetics to market calves together or raise replacements for the group.

Know when to change bull breeds and what the next step is.”

“The right crossbreeding system will take a lot of things into consideration. A terminal cross system will work great in some cases,” Greiner says. “This system maximizes pounds and improves herd productivity which spreads the costs out over more pounds.”

Successful strategies

A crossbreeding system is more than changing bull breeds. Every so often it must be implemented like a game plan: very strategically.

The right crossbreeding system will benefit the operation for years to come. The long-term process requires goal setting, planning and a stick-to-it attitude to achieve success.

“The benefits of maternal heterosis are very well documented. The long-term benefits of a good crossbreeding system are reproductively superior females that are built to match your grass and nutritional resources,” Greiner says.

“Crossbreeding will help enhance your ability to accomplish this, but you have to set your goals and stick to the plan.”

“Set your goals for a crossbreeding system. Seek out the type of animals within breed A or breed C and profile what that cross will look like to you,” Parish says. “Decide what traits are important to the system – carcass, growth or maternal.

In reality, you have to select traits that fit production goals. Crossbreeding can help, but the system can’t be abandoned.”  end_mark


A planned crossbreeding system to design the cow factory will help the cowherd adapt to the environment and utilize available resources. Photo courtsey of Progressive Cattleman staff.