Profit First  |    Advantages of Cross Breeding
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Advantages of Cross Breeding
Use Hybrid Vigor
By:  John Hough, Ph.D.
Chief Science Officer, EPD International, Inc.
P.O. Box 808, Statham, Georgia 30666, Telephone 770-725-9811

      Why should commercial cattlemen use Hereford bulls?  One word--heterosis.  This isn't the only reason, but it's a top priority.  Heterosis, known as hybrid vigor, is the added performance you get when mating parents of different breeds.  It is free and nothing is spared to achieve it.
      Table 1 shows general economic values for traits as well as heritability and heterosis.  Heritability is related to the response you get from selection, while heterosis is the response you gain from crossbreeding.  In nearly all cases, when heritability is high, heterosis is low.  Thus, when response to selection is high, response to crossbreeding will be low.  Reproductive traits are the most economically important traits in commercial beef cattle production and respond the most to
crossbreeding.

     Table 1.

Economic Value, Heritability, and Heterosis of
Three Classes of Traits

Traits
Economic
Value
Average %
Heritability
Average %
Heterosis
Reproduction
High
5 - 10
10 -15
Production
Moderate
20 - 35
5 - 10
Carcass
Low
40 - 50
0 - 5

      An example of heterosis:  a commercial breeder with Angus cows has the genetic merit in normal conditions to produce 495-pound calves.  He buys a Hereford bull with the genetic merit to produce 505-pound weaned calves.  Without heterosis, you would expect the calves to weigh the average of their parents, (495+505) / 2 = 500 pounds.  Additionally, heterosis for weaning weight is 5%, and 5% of a 500-pound calf is 25 pounds.  You would expect the calves to wean at 500 pounds from the average of their parents plus 25 pounds from heterosis.  This 25-pound addition is free, and no cattleman can afford to ignore an added 25 pounds of weaned calf.
      This example reviewed individual heterosis, which results from breeding a purebred bull to a purebred cow.  There is also maternal heterosis, which is the added performance from a crossbred dam since her parents are different breeds.  Individual and maternal heterosis are additive in nature, meaning the advantages seen in the crossbred calf can be added to those seen in the crossbred dam.
      A natural composite trait that responds extremely well to crossbreeding is "pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed."  This trait is a combination of the dam's reproductive performance, calf's survival, dam's maternal ability, and the calf's growth rate.  Individual heterosis for this trait has been estimated at 8%, while maternal heterosis can be as high as 19%.
      For example, in mating a crossbred Simmental x Angus cow to a Hereford bull, let's assume the Angus genetics can produce a 395-pound weaned calf per cow exposed, the Simmental genetics can produce a 440-pound weaned calf per cow exposed, and the Hereford genetics can produce a 400-pound weaned calf per cow exposed.  Pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed is less than actual weaning weight because of less than 100% reproductive and calf survival rates.  The resulting calf from this cross would be half Hereford, because it is sired by a Hereford bull, and one-fourth Angus and one-fourth Simmental, because the dam is half Angus and half Simmental.
      The crosses and heterosis are therefore (¼ Angus genetic level plus ¼ Simmental genetic level plus ½ Hereford genetic level) times (1 plus maternal heterosis due to the Angus x Simmental dam) times (1 plus individual heterosis due to the Hereford sire).  Therefore, (¼ [395] + ¼ [440] + ½ [400]) x (1+.19) x (1+.08) = (99+110+200) x  1.19 x 1.08 = 409 x 1.19 x 1.08 = 525-pound weaned calf per cow exposed.  The average of the ¼ Angus x ¼ Simmental x ½ Hereford genetics was 409 pounds, therefore there was an additional 116 pounds of weaned calf per cow exposed produced because of the combination of the two.
      The advantages of heterosis aren't always simple.  There are additional maintenance and production costs associated with increased production.  Crossbreeding programs are also more complex to maintain.  It's easy to create a large, diverse cow herd with a disorganized crossbreeding program.  However, the heterosis resulting from an organized crossbreeding program could make the difference between profits and losses.
      Another advantage of using a Hereford bull in a crossbreeding program is breed complementarity.  There are many black cows across the country.  Commercial cattlemen are breeding these cows back to Angus bulls and losing performance.  High-percentage Angus commercial cow herds can be targeted when selling Hereford bulls.  From both the individual and maternal standpoints, breeding a Hereford bull to these high-percentage Angus cows will reap rewards.  Black baldy calves are productive from the pasture to the packing plant.  The baldy steer can qualify for both Certified Hereford Beef and Certified Angus Beef branded-beef programs, and it sets the level of demand for others to follow.  In addition, black-baldy heifers excel in performance as replacement females in commercial pastures.
      Using Hereford bulls on black cows is fundamental to tomorrow's beef cattle business.