My excitement to be a representative of the Hereford breed abounded as I listened to experts address attendees of the Cattle Industry Annual Convention this winter. Speaker after speaker called on producers to take advantage of the benefits of carefully planned crossbreeding and to focus on production efficiencies.
One of the major problems in the commercial cattle industry today, as pointed out by our teachers, is the number of straightbred herds across the country. Patsy Houghton, McCook, Neb., explained this problem in one of the convention’s educational sessions. Houghton served four years as a Kansas State University beef Extension specialist, and now owns and manages a 4000-head professional heifer development and research center by the name of Heartland Cattle Co.
She told us that the commercial cattle industry in recent years has become too straightbred in the chase for carcass consistency and, as a result, is largely giving up the production efficiencies that accompany crossbred animals. “We need to get back some hybrid vigor in our national cow herd,” she told me and other convention attendees.
When she made that comment, it took about all I had to stay in my seat and not shout out, “Hereford can help!” You see, not only do Herefords complement a variety of breeds from Angus to Brahman, but they also provide greater heterosis effects than many other Bos taurus breeds because of Hereford purity. This truth has been proven by well-respected scientists at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC).
These scientists have also demonstrated the “production efficiencies” of crossbred animals. A long-term USMARC heterosis project noted that weaning weight per cow exposed increased 8.5% by raising crossbred (F1) versus straightbred calves. We all know that most crossbred calves stand and nurse earlier and are more resistant to stresses such as scours and chills. Taking it a step further, weaning weight per cow exposed increased 23.3% in crossbred cows raising three-way cross progeny. More than half of this total heterosis effect was due to the crossbred cow’s advantage in fertility and milk production. Herd life was 1.9 years longer for F1 cows than for straightbred cows, and overall breakeven costs were reduced by 10%. Wouldn’t this be nice in a time when input costs, feed for one, are skyrocketing?
The issue of feed costs brings me to the second reason I was especially proud to be an American Hereford Association (AHA) employee at the Cattle Industry Annual Convention. A hot topic, of course, was the growing ethanol industry, high corn prices, and the current and potential effects on the beef industry. One deduction I’ve made from all the “corn talk” in the last several months is that efficient cattle are going to be in high demand as feeders seek to feed calves for a shorter number of days, perhaps on less ideal feeds.
As with the call for heterosis, the Hereford breed is uniquely positioned to fill the demand for efficiency. Hereford breeders throughout time have bred feed efficiency into their herds. Expected to do more with less — or be sent down the road — Herefords have naturally excelled in converting grass and grain into dollars of profit.
As the tools become available to scientifically measure feed efficiency, Hereford again is leading the charge. The AHA is pursuing genetic progress through a feed efficiency trial at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Monty Kerley, Mizzou animal scientist and professor, is utilizing Hereford cows in a study designed to explore the possibilities and effects of scientifically selecting for feed efficiency.
Kerley gives this example of how efficiency can dramatically affect production economics: In a project at the University of Missouri Beef Research and Teaching Farm, the most efficient calf in the feedlot consumed $92 less feed than the most inefficient calf ($145 per ton of diet estimate) to the same amount of gain.
“The potential for improvement in feed efficiency can be greater than the potential profit margin of feeding the calf,” Kerley says. The reality of his statement intensifies as feed prices rise.
So, what does all of this mean? To me, it means the opportunity for those involved in the Hereford business has never been greater to fulfill a major need in the commercial industry — cattle that increase efficiency and cross well with other breeds. Simply put, a Hereford is needed to produce a baldie, and the baldie is reputed as the most productive, efficient animal in the business.
Although many would call me biased, I truly believe that now is the time to incorporate Hereford genetics into your herd, if you haven’t already.