Chasing fads doesn't increase production efficiency and profit potential. Nor does it satisfy consumer demand. Taking advantage of heterosis and blending the strengths of complementary genetics does.

In fact, planned crossbreeding allows for multi-trait selection that can offer huge results in a minimal amount of time (one to two generations). If you doubt that, consider what hybrid vigor offers:

  • Significant improvement in fertility with reduced inputs;

  • Increased calf survival with equal inputs;

  • Improved feed conversion; and

  • Increased longevity.

Most important, however, hybrid vigor is the most powerful tool a producer has to avoid wrecks. In times of climactic, nutritional or immunological stress, crossbred animals have an absolute advantage over their straightbred counterparts when you consider morbidity, mortality and reproductive performance. That's why hybrid vigor is a cornerstone of profit-minded programs.

Harlan Ritchie, distinguished professor of animal science at Michigan State University, says: “Crossbreeding offers too much to ignore, including the opportunity to match complementary breeds to the environments and the markets.”

However, to effectively utilize heterosis, producers must first evaluate their operation's advantages and disadvantages in the areas of environment, production, markets and cost. Then, they must select breed components that tend to be complementary to these specific needs.

Individual ranches vary tremendously. Identifying the forage resources, grazing management, supplemental feed costs and management needs are all important to defining the cow that will do the job most efficiently in a specific environment. Identify these resource strengths and weaknesses honestly and accurately, and it's simple to use crossbreeding to enhance production and quality.

As a cow/calf producer either raising or purchasing your replacements, there is no shortage of genetics available to complement your particular operation. But, if you also focus on finding seedstock suppliers who understand heterosis management and your particular needs, the value of their genetics can grow in your profit equation.

Crossbreeding Is The Rule

Though some producers and breeds still embrace a straightbred strategy, mainstream beef production today undoubtedly revolves around planned crossbreeding systems. Of the 25 largest cow/calf operations in the U.S. identified by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, 22 utilize at least two breeds and/or composites in their management.

Likewise, of the 45 value-added programs cited in BEEF magazine's 2000 Alliance Yellow Pages, 28 of them either wanted or required Angus crossbreds or English X Continental feeder cattle. With the exception of one, every program offering producers pass-back premiums require Angus crossbreds or English X Continental cattle.

Consequently, besides production efficiency, enhancing market opportunity demands that producers take a hard look at these types of cattle in making their crossbreeding decisions. And, many combinations or breeds and/or composites can meet the needs of producers while delivering a quality product to the end consumer.

What's more, integrated relationships from the seedstock supplier to the retailer are developing daily. In the past, relationships between different segments of the industry have been predatory. Today, each segment is becoming more dependent on the other ones to increase efficiency while meeting specific requirements of the next segment in line.

It's almost a profit-sharing approach. If the trend continues, as an industry we'll undoubtedly make significant progress in producing a more consistent product and continue to expand the demand and profit for beef.

It's time for commercial producers to demand more than genetics from their bull and female seedstock suppliers. Demand commitment to understanding and providing genetics that fit your unique needs. Demand that your seedstock supplier understand how crossbreeding works and how they can help you manage heterosis by using their genetics.

It's not only possible to serve commercial producers with genetics that fit planned crossbreeding systems capable of increasing efficiency, reducing cost and better serving the consumer. It's also becoming profitable to do so.

Bob and Judy Prosser own and manage the Bar T Bar Ranch near Winslow, AZ. Their 77-year-old family operation includes a commercial cowherd, cattle feeding and seedstock herds that produce Gelbvieh, Angus and Balancer (Gelbvieh X Angus) bulls and females. Contact them at 520/477-2458 or visit www.bartbar.com.