Some Reflections on Fall Meetings and Crossbreeding

Joe C. Paschal

I missed the opportunity to include my thoughts last month in The Ear and I regret it. September through November are busy months for me as there are many Extension educational programs in the 37 counties in South Texas I am responsible for plus several others. Some of these educational programs have a long history going back to the early 70’s and even in the 60’s. In addition I had the opportunity to speak at three “eared” breed associations educational programs at their national meetings (this in addition to my regular duties and of course the ranch where we began calving in mid-October). This month I’ll cover some of the things I picked up at these meetings and then wrap up with some comments on a white paper currently making the rounds about crossbreeding.

In many of these meetings the most often discussed topic was about the ongoing drought and whether or not some rebuilding of the cowherd should occur if rain had fallen and pastures were returning to normal. I was “googling” some drought information and came across numerous NBC affiliate stations up in the Illinois area with a video clip about a farmer named Ken Wiseman in Golconda, Illinois who had been raising Angus until a few years ago when he decided that he would switch to Brangus and breed his Angus Cows to Brahman bulls. In his own words: “The Brangus cows that we have, they will stay out on top of the hill in the hot sun and keep eating. The others go to the shade or to the pond,” Wiseman said. “The breed,” he said, “developed a natural tolerance to heat and drought. If they’re out eating, they’re putting on weight and that’s money in the farmer’s pocket.” Wiseman said the hardier animals “are engineered to survive – and even thrive – in this weather.” You can’t pay for an ad like that even if it is in Illinois! I emailed it to Dr. Joe Massey, Executive Vice President at International Brangus Breeders Association, tweeted it on my Twitter account (#Joe_Paschal) and was immediately picked up by Certified Angus Beef. I guess they wanted to know what I was up to!

Mr. John Ford, the Executive Vice President of Santa Gertrudis Breeders International held a Mexican Cattlemen’s Field Day in Kingsville, Texas to present new data to potential buyers of Santa Gertrudis cattle on the maternal ability of the Santa Gertrudis cow and the potential of Santa Gertrudis and Santa Gertrudis cross feeder calves. John had really done his work; he had current data from various sources that indicated the current level of performance and particularly the performance of Santa Gertrudis crosses, both maternally, in the feedyard and as carcasses. I reviewed the Texas A&M Ranch to Rail Program that we conducted from 1991 until 2005 and presented feedyard, carcass and financial performance of percentage Bos indicus crosses and specifically Santa Gertrudis steers, including some tenderness data. John had a large international as well as a domestic group of breeders and the meeting was very successful.

In mid October I was asked by Dr. Tommy Perkins, Executive Vice President of Beefmaster Breeders United, to speak and judge at their National Beefmaster Convention in Branson, Missouri. Tommy had a terrific crowd at his “Meet in the Middle” meeting and in addition to working I got a chance to ride (and drive) one of the DUKWs that we toured on one afternoon. During World War II these were used to ferry troops from the ships in the invasion forces to the beachhead and then onto land. The top speed in the water was about 5 mph and the bottom and sides were made of pretty thin metal that might stop a BB pellet. My hat is off to anyone who rode them in under fire but that day it was strictly for fun! But I digress. Tommy had set up an excellent educational program to discuss ways to prevent cattle theft (seems to be a big problem in every state!) and I gave a talk on animal ID methods and we demonstrated freeze branding to a large crowd of folks! One thing that impressed me was that the quality of the cattle and the locations of the cattle in the Open and Junior Beefmaster Shows. There was a significant contingent of good cattle from Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and more northern climates as well as Texas and other warmer states.

Crowd at Anderson Beefmaster Ranch Field day in October listening to brush control demonstration and helicopter spraying.

Crowd at Anderson Beefmaster Ranch Field day in October listening to brush control demonstration and helicopter spraying.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak at the American Brahman Breeders Association 2nd Annual Membership Convention in Galveston, Texas. Mr. Chris Shivers, the Executive Director of ABBA had asked me to talk on “Understanding the End Product” and with a little help from my colleague Dr. Dan Hale (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Meats Specialist in College Station, Texas) I put together a credible presentation using Brahman cross steers and showing how the value of a carcass is determined and what detracts from its value. Since I also assist with the ABBA’s Carcass Project where straightbred Brahman steers consigned to the program are fed at Grahman Feedyard in Gonzales, Texas and processed at Sam Kane Beef Processor in Corpus Christi, Texas I pointed out how straightbred Brahman steers fit. It might surprise you but most of these straightbred Brahman steers will fit mainstream fed beef supplies very well, mostly very high yielding (YG 2) USDA Select carcasses. Chris did discuss the ABBA F1 Certification Program. The program, begun in 1979 by then Executive Director Wendell Schronk, promoted the use of an already widely recognized and highly regarded F1 female and has seen resurgence in interest and applications for both the Certified and Golden Certified F1 Female Programs.

Crowd at the American Brahman Breeders Association 2nd Annual Educational Convention watching a chute side demonstration.

Crowd at the American Brahman Breeders Association 2nd Annual Educational Convention watching a chute side demonstration.

The idea of marketing the crossbred females of the Eared breeds may have begun with the ABBA F1 Female Program but it is certainly not new and it has been adopted by several breeds and not all of them would classify as “eared breeds”. The International Brangus Breeders Association has their “Brangus Gold” Program, BBU has their “E6” Program (which can include up to full blood Beefmaster females) and SGBI has their “Star 5” Program (which can include progeny from registered and nonregistered parents).  There is even a program begun by a NON-EARED breed to emphasize the importance of crossing it with Eared breeds to ensure a high level of productivity in more tropical climates, the Southern Balancer Program promoted by the American Gelbvieh Association. The Southern Balancer must be at least 25% Gelbvieh and can be anywhere from 6.25 to 50% Bos indicus (depending on how much you need for your environment or how much hybrid vigor you want or need to make a profit!). I am sure that there are other programs in other breeds that highlight the F1 female, especially if produced by sires or out of dams of a particular breed since the greatest benefit of the F1 is that it exhibits 100% hybrid vigor or heterosis for EVERYTHING – from the cradle to the grave – which brings me to my last topic.

A few months ago a white paper written by Dr. Nevil C. Speer, an agricultural economist from Western Kentucky University, entitled “Crossbreeding: Considerations and Alternatives in an Evolving Market”. This paper, supported (paid for) by Certified Angus Beef, LLC, made the rounds of the popular press and was either praised or cussed. I have never met Dr. Speer but I have read a lot of his stuff in many different venues and he is a logical thinker even if this is a “bought and paid for article” (some might consider mine in the same vein).  You can access the full article here: http://www.cabpartners.com/news/research/CROSSBREEDING_WHITE_PAPER_2.pdf

I encourage you to read it and especially the last graphic (Figure 5: Crossbreeding Decision Maker) where he makes four important points in evaluating whether or not a crossbreeding system is useful or beneficial. First is has to be easily conducted. Second you must have readily available superior bulls for a terminal cross. Third it won’t cause you to lose money due to loss of herd size, type of cross or uniformity. And fourth, it will improve maternal performance (or not impact functional traits). If these four criteria are met then crossbreeding proves beneficial. I agree!

 

Dr. Paschal is a livestock specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and is based in Corpus Christi, Texas. He can be reached at (361) 265-9203 or j-paschal@tamu.edu

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