Crossbreeding has been shown by numerous research studies to enhance advantages in growth, longevity and maternal efficiency over straightbred cattle due to heterosis and has been popular among commercial cattlemen since the 1960s. With the growth of the Angus breed and the success of their marketing program, the term “Angus” has taken on a meaning synonymous with quality to many consumers. This fact has changed the commercial landscape with a majority of the American cowherd now being heavily Angus-influenced, and has led some to theorize that crossbreeding is no longer needed and market demands can be met with just one breed.
As you look at profit drivers across the production chain, there is value in crossbreeding, especially with Continental breeds. Cattlemen generally agree there are any number of traits which each breed excels at and it is possible to develop a breeding strategy to exploit those traits. The key to the system is that crossbreeding must be conducted in a programmed manner using seedstock appropriate for the situation.
Profit-minded cattlemen are aware of the advantages of using outcross genetics and breeds to advance their breeding programs. If this weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have seen the increase in value for bulls in major Continental breeds in the past years. Growth in natural and non-hormone treated cattle (NHTC) programs also serve as a driver for a return to crossbreeding since the performance, efficiency and yield provided by crossbreeding are needed to maintain profitability when implants, beta agonists and ionophores are removed.
With forced and continued liquidation of our nation’s cowherd, and with much of the commercial cow industry consisting of black-hided, English-based cows, Limousin sires can produce a calf crop that helps the entire production chain. The resulting progeny will increase weaning weights and produce great replacement heifers with maternal advantages that return dollars to the commercial cow-calf man. Those same feeder cattle will boost performance and increase dollars returned, whether it involves running cattle on grass or moving cattle into grower yards or finishing lots.
The improvement in feed efficiency at the stocker, grower and feedyard sectors of the business is apparent on closeouts when cheaper cost of gains and better dry matter conversions are the major factors in determining profitability. Those same cattle give similar economic advantages to the packing industry in terms of improved dressing percentages, pounds of useable product and less waste and fat trim. Producing cattle with superior yield grades, while still having the ability to grade Choice, has tremendous economic value. These advantages are dollars reflected in pounds out the back door that make a difference to a competitive packing industry that operates on economies of scale.
Recently, Tom Brink of JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding gave a presentation to NALF’s Emerging Leaders Academy entitled “What Feedyards are Looking for in the Feeder Cattle They Buy.” He said the industry needs steers that will a produce a Choice carcass that has a Yield Grade less than 3, and to be the most profitable the hot carcass weight needs to be over 850 pounds. To achieve this, Brink showed a breed pyramid put forth by his feedlot managers as their recommendation for a good-feeding, good-grading, good-yielding animal. The results are a combination of 25 to 50 percent Continental (for example, Limousin) and 50 to 75 percent Angus genetics. Those cattle bring the balance needed to succeed both in the feedyard and on the grid. A majority of these cattle also work in premium programs with an Angus label since a bulk of the Limousin, Simmental and Gelbvieh breeds are black-hided.
Hybrid bulls, such as Lim-Flex®, have yielded a solution to the inherent difficulties of maintaining a crossbreeding system. These cattle allow breeders to take advantage of breed complementarity to form a useful and valuable product without the extra difficulties of sorting multiple pastures for crossbreeding. With EPDs and genomic profile tools, breeders get the same genetic predictability of a purebred animal with the added benefit of increased fertility and maternal heterosis.
Maternal heterosis is often the forgotten aspect of crossbreeding. Dr. Bob Weaber, Beef Extension Specialist at Kansas State University states that, “often, producers focus on the trait improvements made through additive genetics for heritable traits like growth and carcass merit associated with increasing the representation of a breed at the expense of the beneficial heterosis effects on lowly heritable traits like reproduction and longevity. The truth is, you can have both with a well-planned crossbreeding system.”
The extra longevity, fertility and production in the hybrid cow yield real dollars in the pockets of commercial cowman.
We need to remember that Limousin are grading better than ever before, particularly Lim-Flex, which are being used more heavily in the commercial cattle business. After feeding thousands of cattle, we quickly learned that Lim-Flex cattle were consistently grading between 75-85 percent Choice.
When Limousin breeders addressed the docility issue years ago and began producing cattle with more rib and production traits, a lot of good things happened. Cattle that have better temperament are more efficient at the bunk and a side benefit to that is enhanced quality grade.
Knowing that higher percentage and fullblood cattle can be geared toward branded programs, such as Laura’s Lean and Strauss, while offering cattle that can work in higher grading markets like Lim-Flex, the Limousin breed offers tremendous advantages and diversity.
We trust that commercial cow-calf producers understand the benefits crossbreeding offers regarding marketability and profitability. Given the high feed costs that are most likely here to stay, the cattle that incorporate feed efficiency and pounds of saleable product while still producing high-quality beef will be crucial to the success of producers across the nation.