Technical information - General

Maximising Beef Production


By Alex Ashwood

It is well recognised that straight bred Brahmans are an extremely important part of the northern beef industry but there is also tremendous benefits of using Brahmans in well structured crossbreeding programs.

There is a really big potential for Brahmans to lift the productivity and profits of beef herds through cross breeding. Crossing Brahmans with the numerous varieties of British and European breeds, nevertheless requires planning and additional skills to maximise the benefits of crossbreeding.

Cross breeding and Heterosis

A main benefit of crossbreeding is heterosis, that is hybrid vigour.

“The benefits of crossbreeding depend on the breeds used and the production environment.”

The greater the difference in the strain of cattle, the greater the hybrid vigour and potential benefits of crossbreeding. The maximum benefits of crossbreeding are achieved by the selection of acceptable dominant traits and not simply relying on species difference alone.

The advantages of crossbreeding include:

  • higher conception rates
  • higher percentage calf drops
  • heavier calves at weaning
  • earlier sexual maturity
  • higher milk production
  • increased longevity
  • earlier conception in the breeding season.
“The best results of cross breeding depend on the selection of compatible high quality straight breeds.”

Outcrossing or backcrossing

Despite the benefits of first cross cattle some beef enterprises consider back-crossing or outcrossing as an alternative to the first cross option to maximise the benefits of cross breeding and maintain a continuous breeding program. However indiscriminate crossbreeding using inferior stock gives poor results and reduced profits.

Cross breeding systems

Crossbreeding research has shown that first cross cattle (eg. BH x Hfd) perform well in the challenging pasture production systems. It has also been clearly demonstrated that F1 cattle perform extremely well in feedlots.

“Implementing a cross breeding program that is practical and profitable is extremely rewarding.”

Terminal Systems

All calves including female replacements are sold.

  1. Two breed terminal system results in F1 progeny with maximum hybrid vigour but the potential of the crossbreed cow is not utilised (see Table 1).
  2. Multi breed terminal system utilises crossbreed potential since the F1 females comprising of two breeds are mated to unrelated sires (eg. Charolais x Brahman mated to an Angus sire) (Table 1).

If straightbred females are not retained replacements, subsequently have to be outsourced, which raises questions regarding their availability. Sourcing suitable females can pose further problems (eg. price, type, health status etc.) Heifer replacements can be obtained through contacts with reputable breeders and it is worthwhile paying slightly above the market value to source high quality stock.

Rotation systems

Replacements are retained in the system with F1 females mated to one of the parent breeds. The progeny are mated to the other parent breed on a rotation basis. Whilst backcrossing causes some loss in hybrid vigour, selection pressure can be placed on important traits and characteristics of the females.

Managing the system

There are a number of options within terminal and rotation systems. The breeds used need to be compatible for beef characteristics such as maturity rates, market acceptability and the environment in which the beef enterprise has to operate.

Lessons from the past

Crossbreeding has taken many forms with different levels of interest and success. Important lessons include:

  • The success or acceptance of Brahmans in crossbreeding programs depends on the close co-operation and involvement of other breeds.
  • There are mixed perceptions of beef producers regarding the complexity and management of crossbreeding programs.
  • It is essential to have well defined production aims and marketing objectives appropriate to the environment.
  • Recognise that the crossbreeding system is a balance between maximising productivity and the limitations imposed by management and farm infrastructure.
  • Better (not reduced) feed management skills will improve the chances of a successful cross-breeding program.
  • Selection of a system and its components will depend on individual preferences and market bias.
  • The supply of suitable replacements can be a major consideration as is the availability and price of superior bulls.
  • Some crossbreeding options are not compatible with definite market preferences.
  • There are a range of breed options that fully meet market and personal preferences eg. Red Brahman - Hereford or Shorthorn, Limousin & Charolais. Grey Brahman - Murray Grey, Angus or Charolais.
  • Crossbreeding programs are adaptable to artificial breeding technology.
  • In all instances, good records and stock identification are essential.
  • Indiscriminate breeding using inferior stock gives disappointing results.
  • Crossbreeding is not the answer to low nutrition or poor management.
  • Over the lifetime production of the stock it pays dividends to meet the higher costs of quality (that is structure and temperament) stock.
“Crossbreeding frequently requires higher skills and greater not less attention to detail.”

Brahmans, fortunately crossbreed consistently well with most breeds. It is a matter of evaluating the various options then setting some realistic management plans to reach your production targets.

TABLE 1 : example of crossbreeding options using brahmans

Environment Product System Sire Dam
Good Vealers 2 breed terminal BH Angus
Yearling 3 breed terminal BH FR x Hfd
Steers 3 breed terminal Charolais Angus x BH
Medium Yearlings 2 breed terminal BH Murry Grey
Steers 3 breed terminal BH Angus x Hfd
Vealers 3 breed terminal Angus BH x MG
Poor Steers 3 breed terminal Shorthorn BH x Hfd
Steers 2 breed terminal BH Hfd