Rayner Reckons

Mar 17

Crossing into profit!

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Last week I was part of a road trip with Shorthorn Beef, delivering several workshops on crossbreeding.  We were holding these workshops on properties in southern NSW and in Victoria.  The three places we visited were all running crossbreeding programs to target specific markets and to capture the advantages of hybrid vigour in their herds.

I reckon crossbreeding is a concept that many producers know of, and in many cases, are actually strong advocates for.  If you're a little unsure of what crossbreeding really means, I reckon its important to know what it actually is, before you implement a crossbreeding system in your herd. 

Crossbreeding uses two (or more breeds) to produce a calf that displays the attributes of both parents.  The impact of two breeds on that calf results in an expression of hybrid vigour, which means the progeny will perform to a greater degree when compared to straight breed animals. 

This extra performance is often seen in the important traits associated with beef production, such as improved weaning weights, improved growth rates and greater longevity in a herd.  

If you use crossbreed female in your breeding herd those traits also influence your fertility rate.

So there are positive benefits from crossbreeding!  If I needed to go a little further, one of the more obvious advantages of crossbreeding is to introduce new traits to your herd, such as adaptation to heat or pests, or to capture other production traits that are important to you and may take a long while to select for within a breed.

While crossbreeding systems offer these advantages, many people grow discouraged by crossbreeding.  I've wondered for a long time why that might be.  I reckon there are a few reasons.  Firstly, there are different strategies involved in crossbreeding.  The most simple is to use two breeds generating an F1 calf.  These calves display all the hybrid vigour effects and surplus females are always in demand for people wanting to use them in breeding herds.

In this simple system, there is a positive return from extra growth in the F1 progeny.  These extra kilograms result in an increase in gross margins when compared to the straight breed program.  

However the big increases start to occur when producers look to use crossbred females in the breeding program.  

When they do this, its very quickly apparent that the hybrid vigour effect in both the parent and the progeny result in increases across the range of production traits.  

The downside is, these systems need to be planned and followed in the joining program.  It seems that many people move away from crossbreeding systems because they forget to follow a plan, or they find difficulties in making the system work to their benefit.

So instead of using a crossbreeding system that allows you to have increased weaning weights, improved longevity in your herd and greater fertility in your cows, (both of which mean keeping less replacement heifers) many people step back from crossbreeding because they are frightened by a perception of complexity!  

Maybe the other concern is that people have dabbled with crossbreeding and have been disappointed by the results they have received.  I know of a few producers who have bought cheaper bulls to use over their second choice cows, "just to see what would happen".  While the progeny did grow well, the results weren't everything they expected, so it becomes a program that isn't "all its cracked up to be!"

Well, I reckon there are a few simple messages.  One,  is that if you want to increase your kilograms of beef producers and earn a greater return in your enterprise, you should be considering or implementing a crossbreeding strategy.  The only exception may be where you have a target market for straight bred animals that suits you and rewards you well enough already.  

The second message is you need to elect the best quality sires and dams from the breeds you want to use. Don't use second rate genetics!  Rubbish crossed with rubbish still results in rubbish!  

Thirdly follow the plan.  Most crossbreeding problems occur when people deviate from the plan, for example by keeping heifers that should have been sold or introducing a new breed without thinking about what will be done with the progeny.  

If you want to consider crossbreeding and if it will take your herd into a new direction of production, take the time to discuss options and ideas.  I've helped a few people in the last 12 months weigh up their options and we have come up with some very nice programs that will be exciting for their results and for the profits they will generate!


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