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Beef cattle genetics

Quick facts

  • There are several genetic evaluation tools that make interpreting beef genetics easier.
  • Sire selection is the fastest way to make improvements in herd genetics.
  • Crossbreeding and choosing the best breed of cattle for each farm is important.
  • Set goals and know what traits are most important for your farm to focus on.

Select cows for your system

Each beef operation is different and has different goals. Strive to have the best management practices possible and select cows that work in your unique system.

Not all genetics will work for every farm. Make selections, and culling decisions to find cows that work for you.

How are beef genetics measured?

Genetic indexes are effective tools in measuring beef genetics. Most indexes use a combination of traits to select animals that excel in a certain area that farmers want to focus on.

Consider the reliability of traits when reading a bull proof and selecting animals to mate.

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Does the bull or the cow make a bigger genetic difference?

The fastest genetic progress is made with sire selection. While cow families and pedigrees are incredibly important, sire selection usually makes up more than half of the equation in terms of genetic progress.

Breed choice

One of the biggest genetic decisions you can make is what breed or breeds to have on your farm. While production factors and economic decisions play a huge role in the decision, there are many other factors, tradition, what you have now, what breed the kids would like to show, etc.

Breeds will differ on the size of the animal, hide color, production and temperament. The decision for each farmer will be based on the market, personal preference, facilities and various other economic factors.

Crossbreeding

Crossbreeding is breeding an animal from one breed to an animal of a different breed. Often, this is done by using a bull of a different breed on the majority of the cowherd.

Crossbred animals can have increased fertility, increased longevity, and increased health, which all lead to increased profitability. The resulting increases of beneficial traits from crossbreeding are termed heterosis and are sometimes referred to as hybrid vigor.

Crossbreeding examples

Angus x Hereford

  • Crossing Angus and Hereford genetics usually results in a black calf with a white face.
  • Often these animals are referred to as “baldies.”

Angus x Brahman

  • This cross resulted in a breed now known as Brangus.
  • Brahman cattle are more heat tolerant, while Angus cattle are known for carcass quality.
  • The result is an animal that does very well in hot climates.

What traits to select for

Identify your overall genetic goals or preferences for your farm and select animals based on the specific needs of your system.

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Joe Armstrong, DVM, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2020

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