Monday, January 2, 2012

Breeding Up Beef, and the Decision of Who to Outcross.

When we look to improve our beef herds one method we look at is Out crossing or Cross breeding which is defined as follows:


[kraws-breed, kros-] Show IPA verb, -bred, -breed·ing, noun
verb (used with object)
to produce (a hybrid); hybridize.
verb (used without object)
to undertake or engage in hybridizing; hybridize.

As a producer we need to make these decisions annually. Do we maintain a registered herd? Do we outcross or cross breed to increase hybrid vigor? What are our goals for the next 3 years and can we meet them with the protocol we are choosing to implement? It takes 3 years to get a beef cow from "Conception to Consumption."(tm) And the end result actually begins prior to Conception. We have to analyze the genetics on first time heifers, and look at the production records on the older females,analyze the information on the bulls we are going to use, decide which groups will be AI and which will be live cover, and go from there.  We choose to follow a couple of different protocols. We maintain a Registered herd for the Show pen and our Backgrounding operation, Cross breed some of those good mother cows to Simmental and Piedmontese bulls for most of our Grass Fed and Finished beef, and do some experimental breeding to improve forage efficiency and rate of gain. We AI some of our cattle so that a percentage of our calving is predictable, we also live cover and run bulls with some of the herds at different times of the year. I prefer AI for breeding up because it allows us to get superior genetics for far less money than purchasing a bull, and we don't have to maintain that bull on site. Bulls are dangerous no matter how docile, and if you've ever seen a pen of bulls fighting for dominance you know just how easily someone or something can get badly injured or maimed.
With all of the new regulations that have gone into effect this year some of these decisions are even more pressing. For example, do I want to embryo transfer and does the new mandate fit with my goals? That's going to take some number crunching. We are always looking for the best way to improve our herds and the technology available today is wonderful! Ultra sound helps us know what percentage of females are bred and who needs to go out with the bull, it also lets us see if that cow is carrying a single or twins and when she is likely to calve. The same technology lets us determine when cattle are ready for slaughter, taking most of the guess work out of things and helping us maintain a consistent and superior carcass. Heat indicators are my new favorite toy! they stick onto a cows rump and change colors when she's in season so we know when to either put her with a bull or in the chute to AI.  I tell ya, I'm real good with that OB glove but would rather leave the Inseminating to Marvin! He gets things done so efficiently it's like watching a dance. Cow in, close the head gate, arm in, insert pipette, deliver contents of straw, and on to the next. Old bossy doesn't even make a fuss!
Our records are providing some really interesting data. When we decided to do more AI our conception rate jumped to almost 98% as compared to 80% with live cover. We aren't synchronizing heat cycles because I'm not willing to interfere with my cattle's natural cycles, but like most households with a majority of females, they cycle pretty closely together naturally.
I would like to inject some words of caution here, Cross breeding, or hybridization needs to be carefully considered and you better know what you are doing before attempting to intentionally cross breed. Small Cows bred to large bulls can mean disaster! Dystocia (the inability for an animal to give birth unaided, usually due to the offspring being too large to pass through the birth canal without help) can cause major losses in  a herd if you don't know what you are doing.  You need to consider frame size, birth weight, daily gains, cow age, Body condition, and your ultimate goals carefully. Indiscriminate breeding almost always produces an inferior animal. Another detail that must be paid attention to is when that cow is due to calve. If you have ultra sounded her or properly preg checked you should know when she's due and be able to bring her in close enough to keep an eye on. Cows carrying twins need to be closely monitored as well, not so much because they will have trouble calving,(twins are almost smaller than singles) but because she may reject one of the calves. Most of the time things go smoothly, but when there is trouble it can be BIG. As more and more people venture in to raising livestock I want to encourage them to get educated about production, and learn from folks that have experience before trying to do it themselves. Learn from others rather than subject good animals to trial and error that could possibly cause undue harm to your livestock and definitely impact your bottom line.  Next time: A Green Horn's Guide to raising Livestock, (or what Not to Do when you're first starting out.)

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