Speaking to producers and industry experts at the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) meeting and symposium in Athens, Georgia, in June, Todd Thrift of the University of Florida reiterated just how important crossbreeding is to the industry and to a producer’s bottom line.

Woolsey cassidy
Managing Editor / Ag Proud – Idaho
Cassidy is a contributing editor to Progressive Cattle and Progressive Forage magazines.

Some would say crossbreeding has caused a mongrelized mess and the industry has all different types, all different kinds and all different sizes of cattle as a result. Thrift’s opinion: “Crossbreeding isn’t the problem; it’s the inappropriate use of breed diversity that’s our issue.”

To see things like improved fertility, efficiency, longevity and some of the other traits associated with crossbred cows, it requires a strategic plan and approach. Here’s a summary of what Thrift said:

  • Not all programs have to be based on the F1 cow. Certainly the F1 cow is the best, but other systems can provide the benefits of a crossbred cow without some of the issues associated with the production of that particular cow.
  • Producers should consider phenotyping the cows they have. For example, they could sort Angus-type and Hereford-type cows – the Angus-type would get a Hereford bull and the Hereford-type would get an Angus bull – and start them in a two-breed rotation.
  • Eighty to 90 percent of producers have 100 cows or fewer; Thrift said the crossbreeding system should be simple. He suggested looking into using composite breeds but cautioned producers against “jumping ship too fast” between breeds.
  • A big concern for Thrift is when straight breeding, producers will utilize a sire or a few sires very heavily by A.I. He said it’s a great technology, but in many cases the industry is narrowing the gene pool.

Donnell Brown

The power of index-based selection

Addressing the topic of index-based selection at BIF was Darrh Bullock of the University of Kentucky, Donnell Brown of R.A. Brown Ranch and Larry Keenan of the Red Angus Association of America.

Kicking off their presentation, Brown asked the audience, “How much information is too much information?” He then pointed to a bull sale catalog that had 148 data points on one particular animal. “[These guys] have some outstanding cattle and the data validates that, but as I look at commercial cow-calf producers wanting to buy a bull, sometimes I get data overload.”


Brown, as well as the other panelists, encouraged attendees to consolidate their data by using selection indices. In using this tool, breeders as well as their customers can make selection decisions based on the economic impact of multiple traits that are profit driven.

All three argued that while the market may change, selection indices will remain consistent. “It doesn’t mean they are perfect; we still need to look at the animal visually to make sure the structure is right all the those things, but we believe they help us make more right decisions than wrong,” Brown said.

As a breed association that was last to implement indices, Keenan encouraged producers to avoid “sitting on the sidelines” when it comes to this tool. He also noted the “future is bright” when it comes to indices and work is underway to enhance the suite of economically relevant traits in areas such as health, reproduction and feed efficiency/ cow maintenance – all attributing to profitability.

Justin Rhinehart

Investing in the future

The basic concepts of selecting and developing replacement heifers haven’t changed, but the technology, genetics and market dynamics have, said Justin Rhinehart of the University of Tennessee.

Rhinehart reminded BIF attendees that there is a lot of opportunity cost and time invested in replacement heifers. He said, “Staying current with these new concepts will allow progressive cattlemen to stay true to those basic principles more efficiently.”

Below are some of the highlights from his presentation:

  • Select and manage for early puberty. To calve at 24 months, heifers need to reach puberty and conceive by about 15 months. Protocols can be used to induce a fertile estrus in anestrous (no estrous cycles) females. Producers should remember the lifetime productivity of a female is affected by her age at puberty. Selecting early born heifers is a likely way to attain puberty prior to the breeding season.
  • Pre-breeding management. One month before breeding season, producers should perform pelvic area measurements and take reproductive tract scores. Any heifers with unacceptable pelvic area or that are sexually immature should be culled. Vaccines and parasite control should be administered at this time, and a synchronization system should be implemented (use some type of progestagen).
  • Post-breeding management. Pregnancy checking should be done early to allow enough time to obtain salvage value from open heifers. Ultrasonography and blood-based tests are good methods to do so. Any open or late-calving heifers should be culled until replacement number is reached. Oftentimes, the end of the breeding season until calving receives less attention and fewer resources, which shouldn’t be the case.
  • Maintain BCS after calving. Heifers should weigh approximately 85 to 90 percent of mature weight at calving. A BCS of 5 should be maintained until re-breeding. Ideally heifers should not drop more than one BCS after calving.

Gary Fike

Factors affecting feedlot profitability

Concluding the session was Gary Fike with the Red Angus Association of America, who stepped in for retired Iowa State University specialist and Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF) manager Darrell Busby.

TCSCF, a program created to provide information to beef producers to be used in managing and marketing their product, has found calf health to be a huge determinant when it comes to profit or the lack thereof – even with the “buy calves cheap and sell them high” mentality.

Fike explained that when looking at the delivery weight and age on morbidity, the cattle that were not treated at the feedlot also came in heavier and older than the cattle that had been treated once or twice. He said, “One of the biggest mistakes you can make is letting them go too soon when they’re not ready.”

The data suggests things like synchronizing to minimize the age gap, implementing a well-planned vaccination program, weaning well ahead of entering the feedlot and using genetics from the top 25 percent of sires is what improves profitability.  end mark

Cassidy Woolsey

PHOTO 1: Todd Thrift of the University of Florida speaking to producers and industry experts on crossbreeding.

PHOTO 2: Donnell Brown of R.A. Brown Ranch was one of the panelists that addressed the topic of selection indices.

PHOTO 3: Justin Rhinehart of the University of Tennessee touched on selecting and developing heifers efficiently.

PHOTO 4: Gary Fike with the Red Angus Association of America presented Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity data during his presentation. Photos by Cassidy Woolsey.