"FS209 Breeding Programs For Small Beef Herds"
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 offspring. 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 209-1 Table 1. Economic Value, Heritability & Increase from Crossbreeding Three Classes of Beef Cattle Traits Traits Relative Economic Avg. Heritability Increase from Values (%) Crossing (%) v 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 209-2 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 209-3 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 209-4 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 program. 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 209-5 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 209-6