If blood is thicker than water, then breed allegiance has traditionally been stickier than sale barn glue laced with hot tar and honey.
I know this to be true. I still have a soft spot for Hereford cattle all because my grandpa ran nothing but straightbred Herefords during a ranching career that spanned better than five decades. Forget color, they were always a top set of performers by anyone's standards.
My wife grew up in the Charolais business. When they were running hard, her family crafted some of that breed's must-have genetics of the day. Never try convincing her that white doesn't have a prominent position on the horizon of our industry.
I also spent many years working with Limousin breeders. Personally, nothing makes my heart beat like the sight of a soggy, red, fullblood Limousin bull and the result of his use.
I haven't had much direct experience with Angus cattle. But, there are seedstock and commercial producers on almost every dirt road in America who believe black is beautiful.
Along the way, I've admired and learned from seedstock suppliers serving up almost every breed you can name. These are folks with a passionate talent for engineering genetics and a sincere desire to help commercial producers climb the rungs of performance progress.
Far as I can tell, at one time or another, every breed has promoted itself as the answer to every cattleman's prayers - "You've got a challenge; we can solve it."
Picking The Winner Who's right? Specifically, which breeds have enough critical mass and unique differences to survive the evolution of an industry moving away from average cattle production toward mainstream consumer eating experiences?
If bull use is any indication, the breed consolidation that began close to 20 years ago has sifted out fewer than 10 breeds that account for the lion's share of all commercial use today. These include the same breeds and breeders that two of this nation's largest cattle-feeding and beef-packing companies began cultivating in recent years as they've quietly begun identifying the specific genetics and seedstock breeders they would like their feeder cattle suppliers to use.
Although annual registrations are not a perfect barometer of use, they are effective. By that measure, the National Pedigreed Livestock Council's most used breeds for a number of years include Angus, Beefmaster, Brangus, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Hereford, Limousin, Red Angus and Simmental.
Plus, poised upon the threshold of a gene-based technology revolution, such things as sexed semen and genomics will surely weight selection toward not only breeds, but specific lines within breeds. Already, the use of composite bulls is growing; some say exploding.
As the number of commercial producers continues to dwindle and the level of vertical cooperation and coordination within the industry increases, do any of these breeds or others have a future? You bet. Geographic and consumer diversity demands a variety of documented, proven genetic pools.
Does the role of these breeds change as more fed cattle trade away from cash markets and through coordinated systems aimed at branded products? Without question.
Should the role of breeds change? Only if you believe in the underlying genetic principles that say some traits are so lowly heritable that the only economic way to make progress is to incorporate other breeds, rather than try to improve it within a breed that's weak in that trait.
The best breed? Whether it's called by breed name or genetic brand line in the future, I'm betting the survivors are the breeds that embrace and extend their unique differences rather than dilute their diversity in the name of becoming more like another breed. I'm betting the best breeds represent components to specific production and marketing solutions, rather than an answer in and of itself.
Doesn't it make sense that breeds are a step in a journey toward satisfying consumers, rather than the destination itself? But, I still have a soft spot for Grandpa's cattle.