While attending the 2002 National Western Stock Show in Denver, CO, it was an honor to attend the first presentation of the North American Limousin Foundation Pioneer Award. My father, J.J. “Bud” Prosser, was the recipient. He was honored for his major role in implementing artificial insemination in the commercial setting and the importation and dissemination of Limousin genetics. It was a proud and a sobering event.
It's hard to look forward without reflecting on where we've been. Since 1975 steer carcass weights have increased from 560 lbs. to more than 740 lbs. Total cow numbers have declined by more than 12 million head (Table 1), while production/cow has jumped by more than 200 lbs. (Table 2). Today, we produce 22% more beef with 71% of the cows (Table 3).
We can attribute a great deal of the credit to the introduction of Continental cattle and crossbreeding along with new management practices.
I remember my father preaching to producers to utilize heterosis to enhance their bottom lines. The accumulation of data over the last 50 years reinforces what he promoted 30 years ago.
Simple crossbreeding systems that combine Continental and English cattle, tempered by genetics that deal with environmental needs, are still incredibly important for commercial producers' profitability. Proven genetics that capitalize on maternal heterosis while producing a quality product for the end consumer is still the goal.
Maybe Tom Lasater said it best, “Cattle breeding is a relatively simple endeavor. The only difficult part is to keep it simple.”
In the future we will probably see even more changes. For one, we're moving toward a predominance of name-branded retail products. In the last five years, we've seen case-ready, name-brand products increase from less than 20% to more than 50% in the nation's top three retail chains — Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway.
Today, fewer retail chains are dependent on fewer suppliers who are supplying a larger percentage of case-ready products. As this percentage continues to grow, it will seriously impact the price producers receive for their calves and yearlings.
That's because pricing or even bidding on feeder cattle will depend on whether the calves fit the name-brand specifications or not. Currently, all three alliances producing cattle for Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway require Continental X English in their genetic specifications. Remember, it took only a few short years to go from hanging carcasses to boxed beef.
I don't know what the future holds, but one thing is for sure. Producers who utilize heterosis to capitalize on their environment while producing progeny that excel in the pasture, feedlot and in the meat case will continue to be profitable.
Therein lies the challenge. Seedstock producers must produce genetics specific to commercial cattlemen's needs while meeting the specific requirements of the feeder, packer and retailer. This doesn't mean every seedstock producer must produce cattle that will fix each and every commercial cattleman's problem. Rather, it means that responsible seedstock producers must forge relationships with commercial customers to identify opportunities and assist in finding solutions. Designing a complementary crossbreeding program is most likely part of the solution.
I hope that 30 years from now, my father's grandsons, Warren and Spencer, are not still trying to sell the simple concept of crossbreeding but are well down the road of profitability. I hope they have the vision to produce genetics that meet the specific production needs of their customers and continue to improve the palatability, consistency and healthfulness of beef for the retail consumer. Returning beef as king of the meat counter should be our common goal.
Bob and Judy Prosser own and manage the Bar T Bar Ranch near Winslow, AZ, their family operation since 1924. It includes a commercial cowherd and cattle feeding, as well as seedstock herds producing Gelbvieh, Angus and Balancer (Gelbvieh X Angus) bulls and females. Contact them at 520/477-2458 or 520/289-2916 or visit www.bartbar.com.