Heavily promoting purebred cattle is a common ploy among breeders, but for the commercial producer, profitability should rule.
“As an industry we spent a lot of time focusing on sexy traits, not profit traits,” said animal scientist Dave Daley from the University of California, Chico.
“We have a bias that says purebreds are always better. They are, if you are selling purebreds.
“For a commercial guy, it is about profit and how to make money,” he said at the world Hereford conference held in Calgary.
Daley, who is also director of the university beef farm, has run a controlled crossbreeding program that has found crossbred cows offer the greatest benefits.
It is easy to measure single traits and over the years improvements have been made in carcass merit, growth rates, milk production and greater mature size. However, cattle may be less functional and adaptable because they are babied more than before.
“We better pay attention to the whole system. We don’t always measure the right stuff,” he said.
Cows need to be matched to their environment and producers
should focus on maximum sustained profit per acre, not maximum profit per head.
Working with 600 cows from two California ranches, the calves were matched to their sires using DNA.
The cost of gain, average daily gain and feed efficiency results favoured Hereford crosses. This made the producer $20 extra per head.
However, the Angus had more marbling and outgraded the Herefords. They also had a slight edge in weaning weights.
The Angus-Hereford crossed heifers had better pregnancy rates than straightbred cattle.
In the United States there is still an advantage in having a black hide and producers worry they may be docked money for selling a red and white steer. The solution is to market the Black Baldie with its white face and black body. It can be certified as Angus or Hereford influence to earn some premiums in the beef market.
He also suggests a good cross is breeding Black Baldie females back to Angus bulls.
Nor should Hereford breeders try to match their cattle to the latest trends and sacrifice valuable qualities like longevity, feed efficiency and docility.