KILOGRAMS of beef produced per hectare is one of the key profit drivers in any beef cattle business, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries beef cattle officer Alastair Rayner, Tamworth.
“The challenge for beef producers is to find ways to increase their kilograms of beef without impacting detrimentally on their pastures and soils,” Mr Rayner said.
He said there were many ways that producers could increase their annual production of beef, including managing their herd to maximise fertility, increasing stocking rate by improving pastures or sowing forage crops, or increasing growth rates through the selection of high growth bulls.
A producer’s choice in breed could also have a significant impact on production levels; choosing the right breed for the production environment could make achieveing production aims easier.
“The most obvious example of how important breed selection is can be seen by the use of the tropically adapted breeds on the North Coast of NSW and in northern Australia,” Mr Rayner said.
“The tolerance of these breeds to heat, ticks and lower quality pastures has allowed many producers to operate successful and profitable beef businesses in these environments.”
So what does crossbreeding offer?
“Crossbreeding offers cattle producers some useful advantages as they seek to increase profitability,” Mr Rayner said.
“Crossbreeding allows producers the opportunity to combine the desirable attributes of multiple breeds.”
Such traits can include growth, muscling, maternal qualities, meat quality or tropical adaptation.
“Crossbreeding allows producers to select females that suit their environment while selecting sires to best meet the market specifications they are targeting.
“Most importantly, crossbreeding results in increased productivity through the influence of hybrid vigour.”
Hybrid vigour is the difference in performance displayed by a crossbred animal compared to the average performance of its parents.
In practical terms, this means a crossbred animal will grow more quickly, have a heavier mature weight and live slightly longer than its purebred parents would.
“Hybrid vigour also has a positive impact on fertility, especially in tough environments or bad seasons.”
Mr Rayner said the amount of hybrid vigour increased when the parent breeds were more distantly related.
“So combining two British breeds, such as Shorthorn and Angus, will result in a lower level of hybrid vigour compared to the maximum hybrid vigour, which is displayed when a British breed and a Bos Indicus breed are crossed, for example a Hereford and a Brahman.”
He said the most important consideration for producers implementing a crossbreeding program was to have a clear plan.
“Many producers start crossbreeding and if their program hasn’t been well planned, they eventually lose their way and end up not only with cattle types that they are unhappy with, but also finding their cattle to be less profitable.”
Mr Rayner said the simplest program was the two-breed cross, often referred to as a top cross.
A bull of one breed is joined to cows of a different breed and all progeny are sold.
Table 1 identifies the average level of hybrid vigour achieved from such a cross.
“Depending on the breeds, the level of hybrid vigour can range from five to 10 per cent; in practical terms, producers can expect progeny to be heavier at weaning or turn-off times.”
Other producers use hybrid vigour to grow animals to meet market specifications at an earlier age.
“Another advantage to this system is it generates first-cross females which are often highly valued by other producers as replacements for their crossbreeding programs,” Mr Rayner said.
A slight variation on the top cross program is the use of a first-cross bull over straightbred cows.
“Many seedstock producers now include a small offering of first-cross bulls, which can go into a top cross program.”
Another option, Mr Rayner said, was the three-breed cross – more commonly known as a terminal crossbreeding program.
“In this system, first-cross cows are joined to a bull of a third breed, and all the progeny are sold.
“This system maximises hybrid vigour.”
The choice of breeds in the first-cross cow can be tailored to match the environment and maximise performance, while the sire breed is often selected to maximise carcase yield.
While Table 1 indicates the average increase, the level of hybrid vigour can be from 20pc to 40pc, Mr Rayner said.
In many herds, finding the right replacement females can be an issue.
It is possible to operate a crossbreeding program which generates its own replacements; this is called rotational crossbreeding.
“In a two-breed rotation, producers would join cows from breed A, to bulls of breed B,” Mr Rayner said.
“The first-cross heifers would be joined back to bulls from breed A; the second-cross heifers would go back to bulls from Breed B.
“The criss-cross would then continue between the two breeds.”
Mr Rayner said it was possible to increase the number of breeds in the rotation.
“To increase to a three breed rotation, the first-cross progeny of breed A and breed B are joined to a third breed (breed C).
“The progeny of this cross should then be joined back to bulls from breed A for the rest of their lives.”
Mr Rayner said close analysis of beef businesses in the past 10 years had shown the more profitable enterprises were those which produced more beef per hectare.
“Crossbreeding allows producers an easy way to increase their production without having to invest large amounts of capital to do so.
“It provides an opportunity to introduce traits to a herd to improve its environmental adaption, meat quality or yield more quickly than in a straight breeding program.”
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