An exclusive BEEF survey bears out what anybody who has hung an eyeball on pastures and feedyard pens throughout cattle country has seen — the trend toward a cowherd that is straightbred and black is firmly in place.

However, there are indications that may change over time, as the genetic makeup of the bull battery is, if only slightly, beginning to change.

In an email survey in December 2013, cow-calf producers who read BEEF magazine shared their thoughts on what’s important to them when buying herd bulls. And while a black hide in and of itself doesn’t rank high compared with other traits, it doesn’t hurt, either.

In fact, when asked to classify the predominant genetic makeup of their cowherd, 51.3% of survey respondents say it’s a high percentage of straight British, such as Angus or Hereford. Another 17.1% say mostly British crossbred. Eight percent say their cowherds were a cross of British breeds and Continental composites, such as Balancer or Sim-Angus; and 7.9% report a mostly British-Continental crossbred cowherd. Eared cattle, either straightbred or crossbred Bos indicus, combine to total 9.1%, and cowherds that are primarily Continental breeds came to 6.5% (Figure 1).

Genetic makeup of U.S. cowherd

In spring 2010, BEEF conducted a similar survey of its readers. Four years ago, readers reported:

  • 47.4% were a high percentage straightbred British (vs. 51.3% now)
  • 20.5% mostly British crossbred (vs. 17.1% now)
  • 11.7% mostly British-Continental crossbred (vs. 7.9% now)
  • 6.6% mostly British-Composite cross (vs. 8% now)
  • 6.3% Bos indicus or Bos indicus crosses (vs. 9.1% now)
  • 6.9% Continental or Continental crosses (vs. 6.5% now)
Breed makeup of bull purchases

Looking at the top five responses in this year’s survey, 66.8% of all respondents say the last bulls they purchased were Angus. That’s steady with 2010, when 66% said they buy Angus bulls. However, Hereford, Red Angus, Simmental and Sim-Angus bulls all gained ground since 2010.

This year, 17.2% of readers added Hereford genetics to their cowherd, compared with 12.4% in 2010. Red Angus came in at 11.9%, compared with 8.8% in 2010, while Simmental ranked 8.8% and Sim-Angus came in at 8.1%. In 2010, those figures were 4.6% for Simmental and 5.5% for Sim-Angus (Figure 2).

However, the majority of readers are happy with their genetics and breeding program. When asked if they plan to shift the genetic makeup of their cowherd in the next five years, 86.7% say no, while 13.3% say yes. Of those who do plan to change genetics, 51% say they plan to increase the percentage of British genetics; 43% say they will add more Continental genetics; and 16% plan to add some Bos indicus (Figure 3).

genetic trends of U.S. cowherd

That’s a slight change from 2010, when 82.5% of respondents said they planned to stay the course with their genetics and 16.7% planned to change. However, of those who planned to change, the percentages shifted somewhat; four years ago, 60.4% said they would add more British genetics; 30.2% were looking at Continental genetics; and 7.5% wanted a little more ear in their cowherd.