For all the technical advances, beef cattle production and the genetics fueling it remain a fairly straightforward proposition: pounds pay; least-cost pounds pay the most.
Or, as Tom Lasater said decades ago, “Cattle breeding is a relatively simple endeavor. The only difficult part is to keep it simple.”
Lasater was the commonsense, innovative South Texas rancher who embraced heterosis in his quest to build cattle that worked for him in his environment. That ultimately led him to develop his own composite breed — Beefmaster.
If I'm correct in my history, Lasater didn't care a whit about fads or popular dos and don'ts. He was concerned with the bottom line of beef cattle production, period.
He weighed his calves individually back in the 1930s when cattle were still sold on a per-head basis. He required heifers to calve at 14 months of age in a 90-day calving season when his neighbors ran bulls year-round. If a cow didn't bring in a calf that could be sold, she was gone.
Along the way, Lasater developed what he termed the six essentials for balanced selection: disposition, fertility, weight, conformation, milk production and hardiness.
“Each of the six essentials is equally important to hitting the target of producing optimum cattle. Removing any one of the six essentials results in the animal's productive value being greatly diminished,” Lasater said. In other words, he believed it economically illogical to select for one or two traits at the expense of others.
Producers today have more technology and performance barometers than Lasater had to evaluate and predict genetic ability to express and meld these essentials. But their overall value to the bottom line remains unchanged, as does the most efficient means of capturing them.
“Simple crossbreeding systems that combine Continental and English cattle, tempered by genetics that deal with environmental needs, are still incredibly important today for the commercial cowman to maintain profitability,” Bob Prosser explains. He and his wife Judy own and manage the Bar T Bar Ranch, Winslow, AZ. “Hybrid vigor is the catalyst that provides a cost-effective way to blend the needs of the producer and the consumer, while capitalizing on efficiencies that lead to net profit for producers.
“Most important though, hybrid vigor is the most powerful tool a producer has to avoid wrecks,” Prosser says. “In times of climatic, 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.”
The Prossers know. They've spent the better part of three decades building and managing heterosis in one of the nation's most unforgiving nutritional environments. They're involved in all phases of beef cattle production, including cattle feeding and seedstock production.
“The challenge for cow-calf producers is finding genetics that will complement their cowherds in their unique environments, while maintaining or reducing costs, and adding value to the calf crop at the same time,” Prosser says. “Simple as that sounds, making it happen depends on forging a relationship with a seedstock producer who is committed to helping his customers reduce costs, add value to their product and increase marketing opportunities while producing a quality product for the end consumer.”
In Prosser's view, that means working with seedstock suppliers who understand the value and intricacies of managing heterosis. It also means demanding that seedstock suppliers provide bottom-line data such as reproductive performance, feed efficiency, feedlot morbidity and mortality — things by which cattle profit is won and lost.
“I don't know for sure what the future holds, but I'm convinced that 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,” Prosser says.