Crossbreds Add Vigor to Herd

March 26, 2010 07:29 AM


Archie Ladd's 3⁄4 Hereford, 1⁄4 Brahman heifers are bred to Angus bulls, which yields black baldy calves with an increase in hybrid vigor and carcass quality for his heifer customers.

Selling crossbred heifers can be a difficult business venture—everyone wants something different and a quality guarantee besides. Southern Missouri farmer Archie Ladd has spent 30 years crossbreeding the best heifers he can. They just might not be the kind of heifers you're used to hearing about.

In 1980, Ladd transitioned his purebred Hereford cows into a complex crossbreeding program. He purchased a Brahman bull to use on his Hereford cows and retained the F1 Braford heifers to breed them back to Hereford bulls. Ladd mates the 3⁄4 Hereford, ¼ Brahman calves to Angus bulls—increasing the calves' hybrid vigor and carcass quality.

"We like to do it all the way around,” Ladd says. "One of the reasons for doing this is that when I sell a female at a sale, the customer can use whatever breed of bull he wants to and still get the hybrid vigor.”

Another reason he got out of purebreds is that they begin to pale one generation after another, Ladd says. "These crossbred cows have a lot of hybrid vigor and will be easier-keeping cows.”

Ladd sells about 75 of his crossbred heifers at the Missouri Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program sales. The heifers are bred to Angus bulls, which yields a black baldy calf that is usually worth more, Ladd says.

"It was a natural thing to participate in the heifer improvement program and sell heifers through the sale because we've always kept our own heifers,” he says.

Does it fit your operation? David Lalman, Extension beef specialist at Oklahoma State University, is noticing a trend toward ranchers using more purebred cows. "Nowhere are they growing faster than in Oklahoma,” he says. "We know we are giving up some reproductive efficiency in purebred commercial herds.

"Producers need to be aware of the inexpensive benefits of crossbreeding in cattle herds—specifically, the heterosis and breed complementary traits you can utilize in crossbreeding. A crossbred cow will yield about 25% more production throughout her lifetime. Greater productivity is realized through increased calf weaning weight and improved reproductive efficiency,” Lalman says. "Crossbreeding also gives producers the opportunity to put together breeds that complement their specific ranch resources and production goals.”

While Ladd says a few of his Braford cows have a questionable disposition, he chose the breed to improve the milk production and summer heat toler-ance of the Hereford and Angus genetics. For even more diversity, Ladd has also incorporated a select amount of Gelbvieh genetics into his herd. His rocky, hilly terrain requires animals to be easy keepers.

"Surprisingly, the Brahman influence has really helped me in the Show-Me-Select sales,” Ladd says. "For us, the best breed is a ¾ Hereford, ¼ Brahman cow with an Angus bull. There are several reasons. It takes the nervousness out of the Braford, they milk well and grow big. The calves have enough Brahman that the summer heat doesn't bother them.”

The question to answer is what your end goal is, Lalman says. "If a producer retains ownership of the calves, carcass quality traits become more important. If they retain ownership of the heifers only, producers will want to balance reproductive traits.

"The efficient cow issue has really taken a backseat in the industry within the last few years,” Lalman says. "We can't ignore beef carcass improvement, but we have to deal with higher input costs. Crossbreeding can improve productivity without increasing input costs.”

However, there is a caution to consider. "Most research indicates that when you cross two or more breeds, milk production will be increased compared to purebreds. Excessive milk production beyond what your forage base can support is expensive,” Lalman says.

For Ladd, many of his heifer customers have had good results and returned to buy more heifers.

"It all started with a Hereford cow and a Brahman bull. Everything we do comes from there,” he says. "We try to buy the best Brahman, Hereford, Gelbvieh and Angus breeding stock we can, so, together, customers get the top genetics easily.” BT



1.Evaluate goals of the operation.

Are you retaining ownership of calves, or selling them at weaning? If you retain ownership, look for breed complements that will improve carcass traits. If you sell calves at weaning but retain the heifers, consider reproductive traits, disposition, udder quality and fleshing ability.

2. Do you have the right resources?

Crossbred cows with higher milking averages can yield heavier calves at weaning, says David Lalman, Extension beef specialist at Oklahoma State University. But they may also require more forage to meet their maintenance requirements and higher milk production level. Factor in the forage availability and quality in your area, as well as supplemental feed and pasture costs.

3. Look for complementary characteristics.

Where could your cowherd improve? For example, if your calves consistently yield 15% or more Yield Grade 4 and 5 carcasses, use a breed that will add muscle and reduce fatness. If your cows in average body condition weigh 1,400 lb. or more, they might be too big. If so, consider a breed with more moderate mature weight.


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