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Reduce your feed costs with crossbreeding

Want to save money on feed costs and still maintain your cows’ body conditions? Turns out the answer is simple — crossbreed.

Amanda Radke

March 4, 2019

4 Min Read
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My family has been in the seedstock business for 35+ years, and in that time, we have focused on raising purebred cattle for our commercial customers.

In recent years, many breed associations have developed registrations for crossbred cattle — mainly for cattle crossed with Angus. Think LimFlex, Balancers, SimAngus, Brangus and Maine Angus, just to name a few.

Our family’s operation has dabbled in LimFlex cattle over the years and seeing that hybrid vigor in action has only solidified our focus on raising the best possible purebreds for our bull customers, so that they can enjoy the fruits of that initial cross when mated with their Angus-based cows.

Now before this sounds like an infomercial for my family’s business, I simply write the previous paragraphs to highlight my experiences in raising both purebred and crossbred cattle. There’s absolutely a place for both, and we cannot truly have the benefits of crossbred vigor without first having the merits of purebred cattle. Ultimately, they go hand in hand.

In addition to added performance and gains, the flip side of crossbreeding is the cost-saving benefits. While my personal experience in cattle breeding has been focused on Continental breeds, a new study at Oklahoma State University (OSU) explores the benefits of cross-breeding two popular English breeds — Hereford and Angus — to maintain cow weight, reduce forage intake and decrease feed costs.

Related:Myths and truths of crossbreeding

According to an OSU article titled, “The skinny on cow weight maintenance and forage intake,” “Animal scientists with OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (DASNR) have long been paying attention to factors that affect cattle efficiency, and this past year decided to take a closer look at total calories a cow consumes relative to her calf’s weaning weight.

“In this experiment, we set out to determine if we could potentially reduce annual cow maintenance costs with Hereford-sired black baldy cows compared to straight-bred Angus cows,” says Dave Lalman, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service beef cattle specialist. “While there is substantial older data available on the question of heterosis, there is not much data available on the influence of crossing a breed known for lower feed intake – the Hereford breed – with the popular Angus breed.”

Considerable research exists indicating that a simple crossbreeding system can result in improved cow longevity and fertility compared to a purebred or straight-bred system, Lalman says. “In fact, years of crossbreeding studies conducted at the Meat Animal Research Center showed an average improvement in weaning weight per cow when a simple two-breed rotation was used with Bos taurus breeds such as Hereford and Angus. This advantage is known as heterosis or hybrid vigor.

Related:Here's why having breeding goals matter

“Another potential benefit of crossbreeding, and one often overlooked, is to select the second breed in the crossbreeding system based on inherent characteristics that might reduce costs or improve income in the operation. The idea of selecting breeds that ‘compliment’ one another in this way is known as ‘breed complementarity’ in the animal breeding world.”

In creating research to look closer at this topic, OSU researchers broke down the study into two phases: Maintenance energy requirements and voluntary feed intake.

Researchers asked the questions: How well do black baldy cows retain body condition compared to Angus cows? What is the forage intake difference between the black baldy cows and the straight Angus cows?

“As cattle producers know, cow-calf operations need to have pregnant cows that are able to maintain a good body condition through the relatively harsher winter months while also providing needed nutrients to the as-yet-unborn calf inside them,” Lalman says. “If the cows can do that while consuming fewer nutrients, the reduction in input costs provides an advantage in annual cow costs.”

Results from the OSU study revealed the black baldy cows averaged a better body condition score than the straight Angus cows. In fact, the crossbred cows maintained better body condition throughout both phases of the experiment.

In fact, the crossbred cows consumed 2 pounds per day less of moderate quality forage compared to the straight Angus cows. This would result in 725 pounds less forage consumed annually.

Of course, this blog post isn’t meant to put one breed or cross on a pedestal. Realistically, no one breed or cross is a one-size-fits-all for every producer in every region of the country. However, the research does highlight what we’ve known for decades — that crossbreeding works and offers great returns for the producers who utilize it.

“By using the crossbred female and taking advantage of lower feed intake and maintenance requirements of Hereford cattle in our crossbreeding system, we should be able to increase stocking rate or reduce the number of acres required by about one acre per cow-calf unit,” added Lalman.

To read the complete results of the study, click here.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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