Why Now Brown Cow?


In the face of a record high cattle market, there is no better time to make sure that the cattle that you’re feeding now are meeting your needs at sale time.  So why and when should you begin changing up the genetics of your herd?

Dr. Rachel Endecott is the Extension Beef Cattle Specialist at Montana State University.  In a recent Northern Ag Network interview, she told us that heterosis is a way for us to make quick progress in traits that are lowly heritable.  This means crossing breeds.

“If we’re going to stay straight-bred and we’re going to use selection,” said Endecott, “often those lowly heritable traits, we can’t make very fast progress because they are so lowly heritable.”

What lowly heritable traits benefit the rancher?  Cow longevity and cow lifetime production are two key areas where Endecott says heterosis speaks volumes.  Not only do those cows stay around longer, but they also subsequently produce more meat in their lifetime.  You can select for these traits within a breed, but Endecott says you’re going to need to be more patient.  Crossbreeding brings about change more quickly.

Heterosis, Endecott says, doesn’t need to be complicated.  “We can still get some hybrid vigor advantage,” she says, “by using a hybrid bull.”  Her example was to use a SimmAngus bull.  That would allow a heterosis advantage in a highly uncomplicated manner.

What happens if introducing new genetics means a less uniform lot of calves at sale time?  To the theme of “Why Now, Brown Cow,” what happens if you have a change in hide color on some of the calves?  While this could mean less money per pound, Dr. Endecott says that you have to put pencil to paper and see if you are making up for a lower price per pound with more pounds.  “If they’re heavier and bring a few cents less,” said Dr. Endecott, “are you still going to be money ahead or not?”




© Northern Ag Network 2014

Haylie Shipp

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