Crossbreeding Systems for Small Herds of Beef Cattle

Editor’s note
The introduction to this guide appears below. To view the PDF of the entire guide, please select the “Download this publication” button.

Bill Lamberson
Professor, Animal Sciences
Jordan Thomas
Assistant Professor, Animal Sciences

Crossbred cows.Figure 1. Crossbred cattle at the University of Missouri South Farm Beef Research and Teaching Unit.

Crossbreeding in commercial beef cattle production improves efficiency through heterosis and breed complementation (Figure 1). Heterosis or hybrid vigor is an advantage in performance of crossbreds compared to the average performance of the parental breeds. Heterosis is particularly strong for traits that are lowly heritable such as conception rate, preweaning livability of calves and preweaning growth (Table 1).

Crossbred cows with crossbred calves can be expected to wean as much as 25 percent more pounds of calf per cow exposed than purebred cows with purebred calves of the same average breed makeup. Breed complementation describes using breeds as they are best suited in a crossbreeding system. To take advantage of breed complementation, breeds with good maternal ability and milk production would be used in a dam line and be mated to large framed, fast growing terminal sire breeds.

Optimal crossbreeding systems take advantage of individual and maternal heterosis and breed complementation. An optimal system requires a minimum of three breeds. Unfortunately, it also requires multiple breeding pastures or artificial insemination (AI) to ensure correct matings resulting in maximum heterosis. A relatively large herd is required so that efficient use can be made of more than one breed of bull.

A minimum of three bulls are required to efficiently operate a three-breed crossbreeding program which produces its own crossbred replacement heifers using natural service. AI requires a higher level of management, especially when coupled with the tasks of estrous synchronization, estrous detection and breeding. As partial compensation for the management required, AI offers the advantage of making available many sires with outstanding genetic merit, a situation that would not be economical for most commercial producers for use in natural service.

Most beef cattle herds in Missouri have fewer than 60 cows. These herds are not large enough to take advantage of conventional crossbreeding systems. In this publication, efficient alternative crossbreeding systems are presented for use by commercial cattle producers with small herds. Systems using one and two bulls are described.