Heterosis an overlooked way to improve less heritable cow traits

Elite animals can be best to use as crossbreds

Glacier FarmMedia – Many cow-calf operations don’t use heterosis to full advantage in their herds, according to two producers who recently discussed breeding goals.

“I was always told that commercial breeders should have better cattle than any purebred breeder because they’ve been able to capitalize on heterosis,” said Lance Leachman, a cattle producer from Maidstone, Sask. However, many commercial breeders fail to find and use the elite animals that could bring the benefits of crossbreeding.

Why it matters: The benefits of hybrid vigour are overlooked by many cattle producers.

“I think this is one area that we still do a relatively poor job as an industry,” Leachman said during a recent webinar organized by the Beef Cattle Research Council.

There’s so much production gained and profitability… by just doing a better job of it instead of focusing on things that are far off in the future or some other research area. I think this is a simple area of discussion that needs to be done more consistently.”

Leachman said hybrid vigour offers the greatest opportunity to improve less heritable traits, such as fertility and longevity. A cow that has an additional year or two of productivity in a herd is a huge advantage that may go untapped if crossbreeding isn’t done well.

Sean McGrath, who raises cattle near Vermilion, Alta., agreed.

“I think that’s something that we often overlook when we’re trying to do this genetic thing on ranch, and I think it’s a really important thing to remember is just, not every cow works out every time but that crossbred cow works out a lot better on average than a straight-bred cow,” said McGrath.

He said research shows crossbred calves have a higher calving rate and higher survival rate, and are 16 pounds heavier on average at weaning.

“If you add that together with the increase in calving rate and the increase in survival, that’s significant.”

Inconsistency within the herd is often cited as an issue with crossbreeding, he said, but that can be mitigated by choosing bulls of similar type even though they are a different breed.

McGrath encouraged producers to consider the environment in which they raise cattle and the level of stress the animals may face in conditions, such as extreme winter cold or a shortage of feed. Those sorts of considerations should be part of breed and body type selection.

Good records will show which bulls worked out and which didn’t in a given year. Use the calving distribution and rebreeding numbers to tell that tale and don’t buy a bull based solely on its EPD numbers, said McGrath. See how it looks and moves and ensure it passes a semen test before buying.

“When I think about buying a bull, a bull is just an automated delivery system for the DNA that we’re buying,” he said. The cow delivers DNA too but is also the production facility, so there is more challenge in good selection.

This article was originally published at The Western Producer.

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