FS209 Breeding Programs For Small Beef Herds

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					                             Beef Quality Assurance
                              Management Manual

                           Fact Sheet No. 209
                 Breeding Programs for Small Beef Herds

   About 75 percent of the cattle operations in              improved by crossbreeding. The relative
Georgia have fewer than 50 head. The average                 economic value, heritability, and response to
producer maintains about 25 cows. Most                       crossbreeding for various types of traits are
classic crossbreeding systems require more                   summarized in Table 1.
than one bull and more than one group of                          Production traits, such as weaning weight
cows. Most small operations have only one                    and average daily gain, are also important.
bull and one breeding pasture available each                 These traits can be improved by selecting
year. The structured breeding programs that                  superior breeding stock. Production traits also
work well in large herds will not work under                 show a moderate response to crossbreeding.
these conditions. However, there are effective,                 While carcass traits are important, they
practical approaches that may be used for the                have less economic value for commercial
small herd.                                                  cattle operations than reproduction or growth
                                                             rate. Carcass traits can be changed rapidly by
         BREEDING PROGRAMS                                   selection. Crossbreeding has little effect on
     A breeding programs is a complete system                carcass merit.
of management designed to bring about                             Crossbreeding works to improve
genetic improvement. Genetic improvement                     reproduction and production traits. Selection
can be accomplished by the use of both                       works to improve production and carcass
crossbreeding and selection. The purpose of                  traits. A good total breeding program for a
crossbreeding is to produce heterosis (or                    commercial herd will involve both planned
hybrid vigor). Selection of superior breeding                crossbreeding and selection of superior
stock is effective only if traits are heritable. A           breeding animals.
trait is heritable if a portion of a parent's
superiority in the trait is passed on to its
     The most important measure of production
for a commercial cattle operation is pounds of
calf weaned per cow exposed. Good                                  Written by Ronnie Silcox, UGA
reproduction is extremely important. In                             Extension Animal Scientist
general, reproductive traits such as percent
calf crop and calf livability have a low
heritability. Reproductive traits show little
response to selection, but they can be

                  Table 1. Economic Value, Heritability & Increase from Crossbreeding
                                  Three Classes of Beef Cattle Traits
                    Traits           Relative Economic   Avg. Heritability     Increase from
                                           Values              (%)              Crossing (%)
                Reproduction                High                 10                 10
                Production                Moderate               40                 5
                Carcass                       Low                50                 0
                Adapted from Willham, 1975.

          Crossbreeding Programs
     Crossbreeding is the planned mating of                                  Artificial Insemination
different breeds of cattle. Crossbreeding can                        Artificial insemination (A.I.) allows a
provide two benefits: (1) it can combine the                     producer to use more than one breed of bull
desirable characteristics of two or more breeds                  each year in a small herd. With a good record
and (2) crossbred animals usually exhibit                        keeping system, individual cows can be
heterosis.                                                       matched to individual bulls of a different
     Heterosis (or hybrid vigor) is the increase                 breed. Using A.I., a small herd owner can
in performance of crossbred animals over the                     follow the same types of crossbreeding
average of their purebred parents. Based on                      programs that work well in larger herds.
research, crossbred cows produce about 5                             The immediate costs of starting an A.I.
percent larger calf crops with 5 to 10 percent                   program may be high. Additional facilities and
heavier weaning weights than the average of                      equipment may be necessary. (A notebook
their purebred parents. When crossbred cows                      entitled "Extension Engineering Plans"
are mated to bulls of a different breed, the                     outlines information about this kind of
total effect of heterosis is an up to 20 percent                 equipment. It is available at your county
increase in pounds of calf weaned per cow                        Extension office).
exposed.                                                             The long term cost of an A.I. program,
     From a strictly genetic standpoint, an                      however, can be comparable to the cost of
excellent crossbreeding system is easy to                        buying and maintaining bulls. In addition, the
describe. Cows should be crossbreeds                             small herd owner can usually buy semen from
(showing maximum heterosis) that are                             bulls that are genetically superior to those that
comprised of breeds that are known for                           he or she can afford to own.
superior maternal characteristics. Mate these                        A successful A.I. program requires good
cows to bulls of a totally different breed.                      management and additional labor. Since many
Select bulls for carcass and production traits.                  small herd owners work at other jobs that may
While this is the ideal situation, certain                       conflict with these requirements, A.I. is not
compromises have to be made in a small                           the solution for everybody.
operation between what is practical and what
is ideal. Following are some options that can                                Buying Replacement Heifers
work for the 20 to 30 cow herd.
     For some producers, the most practical                      on the farm, small herd owners may find
approach to crossbreeding is to buy crossbred                    buying needed heifers more convenient and as
replacement heifers. In situations where land                    economical as developing their own
and labor are limited and feed is not produced                   replacements. Buying heifers can allow a

producer to get the greatest benefit from                   their first calf at two years of age.
crossbreeding.                                                  Determine the major breeds in the cow
    First cross (F1) heifers exhibit maximum                herd. Choose a bull of a different breed. This
heterosis. In looking for crossbred females,                bull can be used for three years. Since you
select breeds with a reputation for good                    don't want to breed the bull to his daughters,
maternal performance. Breed these heifers to a              don't keep heifers from his first calf crop.
bull of a third breed. Since all the offspring of           (These heifers would be old enough to breed
these heifers will be sold, the bull can be                 before the bull is sold). You can keep
selected without regard to maternal traits.                 replacements from the second and third calf
More emphasis can be placed on buying a bull                crop. You should have no problems
with superior growth and carcass                            maintaining your herd size by saving heifers
characteristics. Since all heifers are purchased,           only two out of three years. For some small
there are no problems with inbreeding and a                 herds, this is more convenient than trying to
good bull can be used for several years.                    save a small number of heifers every year.
    The main drawback to this approach is                   This also allows a producer to use a bull
finding a steady source of good quality                     longer, thus reducing costs.
heifers. Buy heifers from farms that are known                  After three years of breeding, sell the first
to have sound health and breeding programs.                 bull and buy a bull of a second breed. Use the
                                                            second bull for three years, saving heifers
                Bull Rotation                               from his second and third calf crop.
                                                                After selling the second bull, buy a bull of
    Rotating bull breeds is a practical                     a third breed and use him for three years.
approach to crossbreeding that works well in                Again, save heifers from the second and third
most small herds. This allows replacement                   calf crops. After the third bull is sold, buy a
heifers to be raised on the farm, requires only             fourth breed of bull and use him the same way
one bull each year and produces as much                     for three years.
heterosis as some rotational breeding                           By the time the fourth bull is sold,
programs that are practical only in large herds.            daughters of the first bull will be ten years old.
    In a commercial operation never breed a                 Most of these will have already been culled;
bull to his daughters. If replacement heifers               the remainder will be good candidates for
are saved in the small herd, there is a limit on            culling due to age. The producer can now start
the number of years a bull should be used.                  again with the first breed of bull and follow
Following is a description of a bull rotation               the same steps. These steps are outlined in
program that will work when heifers produce                 Table 2.

                              Table 2. Rotating Bull Breeds in the Small Herd
                  Calf Crop               Sire Breed                Treatment of Heifers
                     01                        A                            Sell

                      02                     A                        Save replacements
                      03                     B                        Save replacements
                      04                     B                               Sell
                      05                     B                        Save replacements
                      06                     C                        Save replacements
                      07                     C                               Sell
                      08                     C                        Save replacements
                      09                     D                        Save replacements
                      10                     D                               Sell
                      11                     D                        Save replacements
                      12                     A                        Save replacements
                      13                     A                               Sell

    This system prevents inbreeding and                          2.   calving ease
maintains a high level of heterosis in both the                  3.   moderate size to reduce feed cost
cows and calves. There is little advantage to                    4.   good fertility
using more than four breeds of bulls in this                     5.   good milking ability
type of program. If a producer cannot find four                  6.   reasonable growth rate
desirable breeds, two or three breeds can be
rotated in the same way, but the amount of                     When all calves are sold, select bull
heterosis is reduced.                                      breeds used on crossbred females for:

           SELECTING BREEDS                                      1.   calving ease
    Selecting suitable breeds is very important                  2.   growth rate
in the small herd. If natural service is used,                   3.   carcass merit
only one bull is available each year. This means
that all of the calves marketed each year                          In a bull rotation program, bulls are
receive half of their genes from a single bull.            used to produce both replacement females and
Both mature cows and first-calf heifers are bred           market animals. Bull breeds selected for
to the same bull.                                          rotation programs need to possess a
    Since bulls are bred to first-calf heifers,            combination of maternal and performance
calving ease is a very important consideration.            traits. Important traits to consider are:
Avoid crossing breeds with large differences in
mature size.                                                     1.   disposition
    Consider local market demands. In general,                   2.   calving ease
the small producer should avoid extremes in                      3.   growth rate
size or muscle patterns. Use breed                               4.   fertility
combinations that give some marketing                            5.   milk production
uniformity.                                                      6.   carcass merit
    If crossbred heifers are purchased, choose
breed combinations that meet the following                        No breed or combination of breeds is
criteria:                                                  best for every producer. Consider
                                                           management, marketing and personal
      1. good disposition                                  preferences when selecting breeds.
        Selection of Breeding Stock                        performance, it is only part of the total
                                                           breeding program. The quality of individual
While      crossbreeding      can      improve             animals is also very important. Many

economically important traits are heritable.              structural soundness, breeding soundness,
This means that superior bulls and cows pass              health and disposition. Remember that as
part of this superiority to their calves. The most        more traits are added to a selection program,
important measure of production to a                      progress made in each trait decreases. Place
commercial producer is pounds of calf weaned              major emphasis on economically important
per cow exposed. Cows should produce live                 traits (such as calving ease and weight gain)
calves that gain rapidly. These characteristics           that can be changed by selection. Above all,
can be improved through proper selection of               buy disease free bulls from breeders who have
breeding stock.                                           a good reputation and a good performance
                  Bull Selection
       The bull is the most important animal in                         Female Selection
the herd. Each calf receives 50 percent of his or
her genetic material from the bull. If heifers are           Doing a good job of culling cows and
saved, some of the bull's genetic contributions           selecting replacements requires a good record
will remain in the herd for years after the bull is       keeping system. Keeping records and making
sold.                                                     selections are much easier if cows are in a
       Many traits may be included in a                   controlled breeding program. A short breeding
selection program, but a few traits should be             season of 90 days or less is recommended.
considered by all small herd owners.                      Identify and record all animals in the herd.
 Individual weights, ratios, and expected                        Most female selection decisions have
progeny differences (EPDs) can be used in bull            more effect economically than genetically. A
selection. EPDs are more accurate than                    good female selection program saves money.
individual weights or ratios because EPDs take            Female selection takes two forms: selecting
into account information on relatives and they            replacement heifers and culling mature cows.
are adjusted for contemporary group                         Select replacement heifers at or following
differences. EPDs can be directly compared                weaning. Select heavier heifers from cows
across herds within a breed. While direct                 with good production records. From a
comparison of weights and ratios can be                   practical standpoint, heifers need to be at least
misleading.                                               14 to 15 months old and weigh at least 65
       Most purebred producers should have                percent of their mature weight at breeding
EPDs for young bulls. EPDs are expressed in               time. Since some heifers will not gain enough
pounds. For example, if Bull A has a weaning              or will not get bred, select about 50 percent
weight EPD of +15 pounds and Bull B has a                 more heifers at weaning than are actually
weaning weight EPD of +5 pounds, you can                  needed for replacements.
expect Bull A's calves to weigh on the average                   The most important trait to consider in
10 pounds more at weaning.                                culling cows is reproductive performance.
       Select a bull with a yearling scrotal              Pregnancy check cows about sixty days after
circumference of at least 30 cm. This is                  the bull is removed from the herd, and remove
especially important if replacement heifers are           cows that are not bred. In most cases this will
produced. Scrotal circumference of a bull is              do more to improve reproductive efficiency
related to fertility of his daughters.                    than any other management practice.
 Other practical factors to consider are
       A second factor to consider in culling a           consistently produce poor gaining calves from
cow is her productivity based on the weaning              the herd.
weight ratios of her calves. Remove cows that

                                                                                     Crossbreeding and selection of superior
                SUMMARY                                                              breeding stock are two useful tools. Your
A good breeding program for a small herd                                             county Extension office can provide further
needs to be simple and practical.                                                    information and help.

The University of Georgia and Ft. Valley State College, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and counties of the state cooperating. The Cooperative
Extension Service offers educational programs, assistance and materials to all people without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex or disability.
                   An Equal Opportunity Employer/Affirmative Action Organization Committed to a Diverse Work Force


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