Cattle farmers have selected beef cattle to convert feed into meat as efficiently as possible. After beef cattle have consumed the minimum nutrient requirements for basic bodily functions, they put on weight mainly in the form of muscle (as opposed to bone or fat). This genetic predisposition to grow lean muscle is why a 40-kilogram newborn calf can reach butchering size in as little as 13 months.
A beef cow produces an adequate, but not excessive, amount of milk for her calf, which enables her to maintain her physical condition and rear a calf with moderate amounts of feed.
In addition to their ability to grow efficiently, the majority of beef cattle are selected to perform adequately in a variety of other important traits, such as reproductive ability, hardiness, and efficient use of feed.
These traits are what make it possible for most beef cattle to reproduce and thrive with minimal basic care. In fact, many beef cows can annually raise a calf well into their teens.
Which one is yours?
One of the first steps to having an enjoyable and profitable cattle raising experience is selecting the breed of beef cattle that is best for you.
A breed is a group of animals with common ancestors. Animals within a breed share distinctive characteristics that they pass to their offspring. Choosing a breed that aligns with your goals makes the job easier and more productive.
Cattle that have parents of the same breed are called purebreds. Cattle that have parents from two different breeds or parents whose breed is unknown are called crossbreds. For example, a purebred Polled Hereford has a purebred Polled Hereford sire and dam. A crossbred could have an Angus sire and a Simmental dam or a parent of unknown ancestry.
Opting for purebreds
Purebred cattle are eligible for registry with a recognised breed association, such as the Angus Associations. These organisations keep records and pedigrees of a particular breed, set the breed’s standards, promote the breed, and serve beef producers raising that breed through education and marketing efforts.
If you plan to raise and sell breeding stock, you should choose purebred cattle. Even if you ultimately sell some crossbred cattle, you need the purebred lines to serve as your breeding program foundation.
If you want to show your cattle at competitions and fairs, you’ll find far more options for showing purebred cattle than you will for crossbred animals. In addition, certain marketing opportunities are available only to particular breeds of cattle or their offspring, such as the registered trademarks for Certified Hereford Beef or Certified Angus Beef.
Also, many beef producers with crossbred cows want a purebred bull with a known genetic background. By using a purebred bull, they hope to produce a more uniform calf crop and improve specific traits.
If you raise purebred cattle, make the effort to keep the data and records so you can get registration papers for your animals. Registration papers are documents showing the identification, parentage, and expected breeding performance of an animal. Cattle need registration papers to be eligible for some shows and sales.
Also, many buyers want registration papers because of the information and potential added resale value they provide.
Going with crossbreds
Crossbred cattle are the result of mating animals from different breeds. Crossbreds exhibit hybrid vigour, or heterosis, which is the ability to excel in performance areas like growth, fertility, and longevity compared to the performance of their purebred parents. Crossbreeding is done to try to take advantage of the best traits of both purebred parents.
Crossbreeding can be especially helpful for improving low heritability traits, or characteristics not likely to be passed on from one generation to the next, such as reproductive ability, mothering instinct, and environmental adaptability.
An F1 crossbred is the first generation offspring resulting from mating two different purebred cattle of different breeds. When an F1 animal is mated with another F1 cross, their offspring are called the F2 generation. F1 crosses show more hybrid vigour and uniformity than F2 animals.
Unless you have a specific plan that requires purebred females, it’s hard to beat the benefits of a crossbred cow (from two purebred parents). With her increased fertility, maternal ability, and lifespan, she will often raise more (and bigger) calves than her purebred counterparts.
The benefits of a crossbred bull aren’t so clear-cut, however. If you breed crossbred bulls with crossbred cows, you may end up with more variation in size and growth of the calves than what you wanted.
Sometimes the data for their potential genetic performance isn’t as accurate as that of purebred bulls. So if you want to use breeding selection to improve specific areas in your herd, you’re probably better off using a purebred bull.
Not all crossbred cattle are created equal
The term crossbred can have different meanings for different people. So when buying crossbred cattle, find out whether their parents are two different breeds of purebred cattle or whether the seller is calling them crossbreds because he doesn’t know the genetic background of the parents!
How to Choose?
The breed of beef cattle you select depends on your cattle raising goals. For instance, do you want cattle to eat a pasture that you’re tired of mowing? Or do you want to raise and sell feeder calves? Maybe you want to show cattle at the local agricultural fair or raise beef to eat or even sell. After you’ve decided on your reasons for owning cattle, you’re in a better position to know what attributes your cattle need to possess so you can be successful and enjoy yourself. Different breeds of cattle are better adapted to certain types of environments, feeds, and marketing options.
The key to raising healthy cattle and making a profit is balancing your breed’s characteristics — such as body size, milk production, and growth rate — with your climate and feed resources and your customer demands. Understanding how all these traits fit together and how they’re impacted by the environment the cattle live in helps you pick the best breed of cattle for your situation.
Quality beef cattle that yield a good amount of meat for their size have a certain physical conformation.
They have a rectangular body shape with a broad chest and width through the shoulders.
They have thickness down the tops of their backs, and their ribs and stomachs are full and round, not flat or shrunken.
When viewed from behind, the animal appears plump, not skinny or bony.
There is a term Quality grade to differentiate the expected differences in the eating quality among beef carcasses. It is based on the animals maturity and marbling (intramuscular fat) as well as the firmness, colour, and texture of beef.
The marbling measurement determines the amount of fat within the muscle and can be indicative of the juiciness of the meat.
Grass-feeding adds on a bit more of an intense beef flavour than the grain-fed. Grass-fed beef is almost always leaner than beef from grain-fed cattle because growing and feeding high-energy forage is more difficult compared to feeding grain. Properly raised grass-fed beef can be just as tender as grain-fed beef, but because it has less fat, the cook needs to be careful not to overcook the meat or it will dry out.
Aberdeen Angus breeders are proud of the marbling trait as the carcasses of this breed have very good structure of the intramuscular fat. They have very good fleshing ability too, meaning they put on weight easily without as much feed as compared to some other breeds and therefore are a good choice for grass-feeding.
The key breed characteristics you need to consider
Carcass merit: The carcass of an animal is the muscle, fat, and bone left after the head, hide, and most of the internal organs have been removed. Carcass merit is an evaluation of the yield, or lean meat, produced by a carcass and the eating quality of the meat.
Tenderness is also important, so you should look for breeds — or even certain lines within breeds — that are known for their eating quality.
Mature body size: This characteristic refers to the weight and height of an adult bovine. Larger mature body size of parent cattle normally results in larger calf size, which could lead to birthing difficulties. However, these bigger cattle usually produce calves with heavier weaning weights, which is important if you’re selling feeders by the pound. An animal with a larger mature size requires more feed for body maintenance, so you want to be sure you have the right climate for producing plenty of feedstuffs. A 1200-kg cow isn’t the best match for an arid climate with meager grass!
Milk production: This measure refers to the amount of milk that a cow produces for her calf. Increasing your cows’ milk production increases the weaning weight of their calves. Heavy milking cows often produce milk at the expense of other bodily functions, however. While producing milk, they may lose weight because all of their calories go toward providing milk. They also may be slower to rebreed. If you have ample, high-quality feedstuffs, you can better care for big, heavy milking cows than if your cattle feed is mainly sparse pasture.
Rate and efficiency of gain: This measure shows how much cattle grow over a period of time and how much feed it takes to produce a pound of gain. Growth is often expressed as average daily gain (ADG) and is calculated by dividing how many kilograms an animal gains over a set number of days. Cattle breeds that have been selected for a high rate of gain often require high-energy feeds like grain to reach their full potential.
Environmental adaptability: This characteristic refers to the ability of cattle to thrive in challenging conditions due to weather extremes, insects, or sparse feed. A live calf with a less-than-stellar ADG or carcass merit is still worth more than the calf that didn’t survive because it couldn’t handle the environment.
The bottom line...
...when purchasing new cattle to add to your herd is to try to buy cattle that are raised in a climate similar to your own and that have been raised on feedstuffs that are the same as or similar to what you use. Doing so makes the move less stressful for the cattle and easier for you.
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