Confusion deepens when you throw in the increased use of hybrid bulls. At the risk of oversimplification, if you breed a straight-bred Angus commercial female to a hybrid bull that is half Angus, the resulting calf will be 75% Angus. You won’t see as much heterosis or breed differential in the calves as when mating parents of two different breeds.

Take that a step further. Suppose you breed a half-blood Angus X Simmental cow to a half-blood Angus X Simmental bull. The resulting calves (F 2 generation) will be more variable in phenotype because the calves have the chance to inherit a wider variety of genes for particular traits than their F 1 generation parents.

Some producers view the preceding examples as equivalent – crossbreeding that should yield the same level of heterosis and uniformity – though they are different. That’s before considering the genetic merit of the parents involved in the mating.

As pointed out at a follow-up meeting of the white-paper group in February, if you breed two inferior parents of different breeds together, there’s no reason to expect heterosis to transform the proverbial sow’s ear into a silk purse. Compared to a calf resulting from two superior parents of the same breed, the crossbred will likely appear to be a failure.

This gets at a couple of other reasons why so many commercial producers might ignore or abandon crossbreeding.

Time and convenience are the first concerns. Introducing and managing heterosis at its highest levels requires added time, resources and discipline. As fewer cow-calf producers count on their herds for their primary annual income, Speer says some place more value on their time for other enterprises than benefits derived from heterosis.

The other factor that’s always made crossbreeding hard for some to consider is the simple fact that it’s hard to see. What are termed qualitative traits – coat color, body type and such – are easy to eyeball. But the impact of heterosis on additive traits like fertility and reproduction – where much of the heterosis benefit lies – can only be seen over time, with the use of meticulous records that benchmark and track herd progress.

“Some of the most profitable beef cattle ranches operate well-managed cowherds that systematically implement crossbreeding,” Speer says. “Conversely, some of the least profitable try to practice crossbreeding but, without sufficient management and marketing focus, often fail to beat simpler, straight-bred alternatives.”  

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