The Value of the American Breeds

Joe C. Paschal

Over the past several months I have written about the history, performance and importance of the  American breeds to the US beef industry. These breeds include any breed or cross that has Bos indicus (generally American Brahman) genetics used in its creation. The most popular breeds usually included in this designation include the Beefmaster, Braford, Brangus, Red Brangus, Santa Gertrudis and Simbrah (the American Brahman was created in this country by combining several Bos indicus breeds and with these six is considered one of the Eared breeds). Of course there are other American breeds, perhaps not as widely used but very useful in the environment they were created.

One breed that comes to mind is the Charbray (5/8 – 13/16 Charolais and 3/8-3/16 Brahman). This breed was developed after F1 crosses made in the 1930s (using Charolais cattle imported from Mexico) were found to be faster growing, more heat tolerant and tick resistant, and better grading (in terms of overall carcass composition) in tropical and subtropical environments they were bred and raised. Charbray cattle were fairly widespread in the Gulf Coast areas and even in some areas of the west but never as numerous in either number of cattle nor in number of breeders as the other Eared breeds. The Association was merged with the American International Charolais Association in the 1960s and is responsible for the registry. I have seen a lot of Charbray cattle in Central and South American (in Brazil the Charbray are called Canchim) and the breed is fairly well represented in Australia. In the US the breed tended to be larger framed and later maturing than the British breeds (even though they were fast gaining and efficient on grass and in the feedyard) and when those breeds began to moderate their frame and move towards improved carcass merit, many Charbray breeders were no longer in business. However there are still a few Charbray breeders and cattle around and their bulls are in demand by the folks who know their value.

So what is the value of an American breed?

So what is the value of an American breed? First there is the genetic value of the breeds used in the cross. Many times when my colleagues talk about crossbreeding, this is sometimes glossed over in favor of emphasizing hybrid vigor or heterosis. As my good friend and mentor Dr. Rodney Robertson, Executive Director of the United Braford Breeders Association once said to me when we were graduate students “Heterosis is just the icing on the cake, the ingredients (the breeds used) are what makes the cake taste good. If the ingredients aren’t any good the icing won’t make it taste any better”. It doesn’t just apply to the breeds but to the genetic value of individuals involved in making the breeds as well. In the original foundation animals of these different American breeds there weren’t any EPDs or adjusted weights or contemporary groups, just outstanding individuals based mostly on physical appraisal. For traits high in heritability this was good enough (it had to be) to ensure some accuracy in selection response and once the progeny were on the ground further culling based on their performance could be continued.

Braford Bulls

Braford Bulls

Most of the Eared breeds (with the singular exception of the American Brahman which is a blend of Bos indicus breeds) have Bos indicus genetics blended in some proportion with one or more British or European breeds. The Bos indicus genetics supplied the valuable genetics for adaptability in tropical and subtropical environments (heat and parasite tolerance, resistance to disease, ability to digest coarser forages due to increased retention time, thicker enamel on their teeth, and increased longevity) that the British and European breeds lacked. In turn, those British and European cattle provided valuable genetics for increased gain, muscling and carcass merit. The idea was to develop a crossbred animal that blended these traits in an ideal to provide cattle that would thrive in the less than ideal environmental conditions produce a market acceptable calf and perhaps most importantly improve profitability. Profitability is what drove Mr. Adams, Mr. Lasater and Mr. Kleberg to develop the breeds associated with their names (Braford, Beefmaster and Santa Gertrudis), not the desire to create new breeds.

Tom Lasater

Tom Lasater

Originally some of these breeds used a specific “formula” to allow new breeders to breed new cattle and register them into the herd book. Offspring from these registered cattle were automatically considered purebreds eligible for registry. Later some of the American breeds that had a specific percentage cross allowed for some variation to fit specific production environments and marketing preferences which has proved useful in the long run. Some environments require less Bos indicus influence, some require more, and many markets tend to discount excessive influence (except in replacement females).

Robert J Kleberg

Robert J Kleberg

In addition to providing a desirable blend of the parental breed types, often to fit your environment and market, there are large number of breeders and animals from which to select.  These breeds (like all purebred cattle) produce their own replacements which is as beneficial today as it was 50 or 75 years ago to their founders. You don’t have to rebuild your replacements when they are culled due to nonperformance, herds can be resupplied with cattle of the desired breed percentages without rebuilding the crosses. In addition, most of these breeds have comprehensive performance testing and EPD prediction that can include ultrasound and genomic data

Another value accrued in combining breeds is hybrid vigor or heterosis. The benefits of hybrid vigor or heterosis are well known. The crossbred offspring has a gene from each of the parental breeds on every locus on each chromosome and the products produced by these genes interact to generally improve the trait in a wide range of environments. Generally the harsher the environment is, the greater the improvement can be. In most cases, this response is significant (as in fertility, maternal ability and longevity) increasing productivity 10-25%. The American breeds, with the exception of some mild inbreeding (the opposite of crossbreeding) that might have occurred to “fix” a type (coat color, white markings, polledness) have all retained some of the original heterosis created from the initial crosses which is valuable to commercial and purebred breeders alike. This retained heterosis is expressed in the straightbred cattle but is also observed when these breeds are mated to unrelated breeds.

There is a long history of using the value of using American breed females in tropical and subtropical environments and breeding them to British or European breed bulls (sometimes related by breed, sometimes not) to produce a terminal cross market calf. The American breed cow provides adaptability, fertility, maternal ability and longevity and the non-American breed sire provides more growth and marketability.  The American breed cows are often easier to find and not as expensive as most F1 females and are a valuable asset. American breed bulls are also used on non-American breed females to produce the same crosses but since the American female is more productive than the non-American one in these environments, profitability is generally lower. American breed cows and bulls are a short cut to most of the benefits of crossbreeding (use of breeds in desirable combinations and heterosis) while retaining the attributes of other purebred associations (registration, performance testing and accurate and timely EPD calculation).

The American breeds and their crosses are valuable to southern US beef production. They provide high levels of hybrid vigor, vary in percentages of Bos indicus to fit your specific environmental and market conditions, have reliable and accurate performance data and EPD for most traits, and can provide a shortcut to producing an acceptable and profitable market calf!

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