Breeding Strategies for Your Beef Herd

Clear targets are required when choosing what beef breeds you plan to use in a crossbreeding program. Selection at the cow-calf level has focused on productivity per cow with emphasis on reproductive and growth traits for the last 20-30 years. The importance of hitting the market target has resulted in the emphasis shifting toward evaluation and selection of carcass characteristics. The first important step is to ensure your cow herd matches your environment and resources and then determine how to hit your market targets through breed and sire selection.

The breed combination of 50% British and 50% Continental optimizes trade-offs and fits many environments. A rotational crossbreeding system or a composite breed will work in the situation where the same breed combinations optimize cow maternal performance and meet the optimum targets for carcass traits. In situations where the same breed combinations do not optimize both maternal performance and targets for carcass traits, terminal sire systems (all calves marketed, replacements purchased) should be considered because they allow the genetics of the end product to be different from the genetics of the cow herd.

Optimum targets for carcass traits are relatively clear for larger markets with emphasis placed on quality and yield. Two major markets with well defined targets have been identified in the Ontario beef industry through research at the University of Guelph. The markets include beef destined for retail trade with single A marbling and a 750 pound carcass and beef destined for the restaurant trade with AA marbling and a 650 pound carcass. Additional niche markets may have very different targets but will be easy to define.

Researchers at the University of Guelph have calculated economic indexes to match the market targets identified in their research. Beef Improvement Ontario has implemented the economic indexes (Beef Builder and Prime Plus) in the bull test program to identify bulls that will produce progeny to meet those market targets. Bulls that meet your breed criteria can then be identified by economic values for the appropriate market with further culling based on conformation and individual traits important to your herd (i.e. birth weight, calving ease, etc.).

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