- Isa Cattle Co, Inc in San Angelo Texas
Science and experience have taught us that we can maximize production efficiency through the use of crossbreeding. Beefmasters are the ideal breed for beef cattle crossbreeding programs for a wide range of reasons.
The most important of these, and one unique to Beefmasters, is our founding philosophy, The Six Essentials (Disposition, Fertility, Weight, Conformation, Milk Production, and Hardiness). My Grandfather developed this philosophy as he developed Beefmasters beginning in the 1930’s. He did so in an effort to maximize production efficiency in a challenging environment. Incredibly, the Lasater Philosophy is as pertinent 80 years later as it was then. This concept is especially relevant in a crossbreeding program which is expressly used to produce more beef, more efficiently. This is without regard to many of the non-economic selection criteria often employed in a purebred model, such as colour, size, and pedigree.
Another trait in Beefmasters that makes them perfect for crossbreeding is that they can easily adapt to nearly any environment, and still yield the production efficiency they are famous for. So whether you are in a very cold environment as is the Foundation Herd on my grandfather’s ranch in Eastern Colorado, or in the desert or in the tropics, they will excel. This means that you can cross them on your existing herd and not be concerned about the adaptability of the offspring.
Something that is tremendously important in considering Beefmasters in a crossbreeding program is heteroisis or hybrid vigor. This is simply defined as an increase in the performance of hybrids over that of purebreds. Because of their genesis as a 3-breed composite (commonly expressed as roughly 50% Brahman, 25% Hereford and 25% Shorthorn), Beefmasters’ built in heteroisis much higher than a straightbred or two-way cross.
|Mating System||% Retained Heteroisis|
|2-breed rotation (A,B)||67%|
|3-breed rotation (A,B,C)||86%|
|4-breed rotation (A,B,C,D)||93%|
|2-breed composite (5/8 A, 3/8 B)||47%|
|2-breed composite (.5 A, .5 B)||50%|
|3-breed composite (.5A, .25 B, .25C)||63%|
|4 breed composite (.25A,.25B,.25C,.25D)||75%|
|F1 bull rotation (3-breed: AB, AC)||67%|
|F1 bull rotation (4-breed: AB, CD)||83%|
As a three breed composite, Beefmasters would have a built in heterosis of 62.5%. But I maintain it is actually higher than that, because the “Brahman” in Beefmasters actually refers to Bos Indicus blood, and that came into the Beefmaster breed in the form of Nelore cattle from Brazil and Ghir and Guzerat from India. That would actually put the retained heteroisis in Beefmasters at somewhere closer to 75%.
What does this actually mean in financial terms? Let’s say your crossbreeding scheme resulted in about 67% of maximum heterosis. A 16% increase in the kilos of calf weaned per cow exposed to breeding is expected above the average of the parent breeds. So, if 227 kilos of calf weaned per cow exposed is the expected average of 2 straightbred breeds, then using those breeds together in a 2-breed rotational crossbreeding system will result in 263 kilos of calf weaned per cow exposed. This is a 36 kilo improvement just by taking advantage of heterosis. In the U.S., we call this a “free lunch”, because there is no additional cost to gaining this advantage.
Beyond just weight, another financial manifestation of the power of Beefmasters in cross-breeding can be found in the length of the production cycle, especially in hot and tropical environments. A great example I am personally familiar with is in Brazil, were we worked extensively with a Beefmaster breeder to establish the breed there. Their traditional product is a 3-year old, grass-fat steer, sold directly off the ranch. Correspondingly, their heifers calved at 3 years old. By crossing Beefmasters on their native Nelore cows, they were able to not only increase weights, but also decrease the time to get to slaughter weight or to calving by 6 months! With the second cross, this was further reduced to a full year. What would eliminating one year’s worth of production expenses be worth to your bottom line?
The beautiful thing about using Beefmasters in a crossbreeding program is you don’t have to do a bunch of complicated rotational breeding. Just breed a Beefmaster bull to the cow of your choice and the resulting calves get a tremendous boost of heteroisis. But the real magic happens when you breed that Beefmaster-cross heifer back to Beefmaster. Instead of losing heteroisis, it is retained. And you can keep coming back with Beefmaster without ever losing efficiency. The system is beautiful in its simplicity and awesome in its results.
Prepotency is another important consideration in crossbreeding with Beefmasters. This is defined as the ability of one parent to transmit more characteristics to its offspring than the other parent. While this is not scientific, I have seen it many times in many different countries; when you breed a Beefmaster to any other type of cow, the result looks like a Beefmaster.
I’ll share with you and interesting story relating to this. We have undertaken an extensive program in Thailand to introduce Beefmasters over the past several years. When the first F1 calves were born out of Beefmaster semen and native commercial cows, they looked just like Beefmasters. I circulated a picture to Beefmaster breeders in the U.S. and one commented that that must be a purebred embryo calf. I corrected him that it was only 50% Beefmaster, the result of one-time use of L Bar genetics!
Partly due to retained heteroisis and partly due to prepotency, Beefmasters just have that little bit of magic that makes them a first-cross a homerun. This is especially true on plainer cattle, where you get a huge improvement in the first cross, with the resulting animal looking like a Beefmaster.
Beefmasters provide the perfect outcross with English or Continental breeds, complementing them in traits like fertility and carcass, and improving them in traits related to productive efficiency. The same can be said of Bos Indicus cattle, where Beefmaster can refine their conformation and improve beef quality while complementing their strengths such as heat tolerance and low cost of production.
I would think there is a tremendous opportunity in South Africa for crossing Beefmasters with commercial Bonsmara cattle which, while developed with similar goals in mind, are composed from different gene pool and have been selected differently since their creation. The result would be a tremendous bang of heterosis.
In summary, cross-breeding is an ideal way to inexpensively improve production efficiency in a Beef cattle operation. And Beefmasters are the best choice to maximize this advantage because they bring so many excellent traits to the table.
Lorenzo Lasater is President of lsa Cattle Co, Inc in San Angelo Texas. He is the grandson of Beefmaster founder Tom Lasater and Immediate Past President of Beefmaster Breeders United.