Cow-calf producers utilize crossbreeding to increase efficiency and profits. To see greater maternal benefits in their commercial cow herds, producers are choosing Gelbvieh or Balancer® genetics. Cattlemen and feeders recognize the value of crossbred calves as they exhibit heterosis (hybrid vigor) and combine the strengths of the parent breeds.
Heterosis refers to the superiority in performance of the crossbred animal compared to the average of the straightbred parents. Heterosis is typically reported in percentage improvement in the trait of interest. Heterosis results from the increase in the heterozygosity of a crossbred animal’s genetic makeup.
In the beef industry, use of heterosis to improve production has shown similar advantages to that of hybrid corn in crop production. Numerous research studies have reported up to a 25 percent improvement in pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed when crossbred dams produce crossbred calves. There are three main types of heterosis.
Individual heterosis is the improvement in performance by the individual crossbred animal above the average of its parents. Increases in calf livability, weaning weight, yearling weight and carcass traits are examples of individual heterosis in crossbred calves compared to straightbred calves.
Maternal heterosis leads to the combined improvement in traits from the dam that cause increases in the performance of her and of her progeny. Examples of maternal heterosis include: younger age at puberty, increased calving rate, increased survival of her calf to weaning, longevity, and pounds of calf produced in her lifetime.
Paternal heterosis is the improvement in productive and reproductive characteristics of the bull. Examples of paternal heterosis in a herd sire include: reduced age at puberty, improvements in scrotal circumference, improved sperm concentration, increased pregnancy rate and greater servicing capacity, as well as more years of service.
Crossbreeding combines the strengths of two or more breeds producing offspring with optimum performance levels. As an example, one breed may excel in marbling potential whereas Gelbvieh are superior for red meat yield (cutability), as proven with data collected at MARC. Combining the breed types results in offspring that have desirable levels of both marbling (Quality Grade) and retail yield (Yield Grade). Similarly, milk production and growth rate may be most effectively optimized by crossing two or more breeds.
Utilizing the strengths of two breeds, the American Gelbvieh Association created the Balancer® program. Balancer animals are registered hybrid seedstock with documented pedigrees and EPDs. Balancer cattle are 25-75 percent Gelbvieh with the balance Red Angus or Angus. All polled, Balancer cattle combine the Gelbvieh growth, muscle, retail yield, fertility and unequaled pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed with the marbling of Angus or Red Angus.
Balancer bulls possess paternal heterosis, resulting in improved productive and reproductive traits. The benefits of paternal heterosis include increased servicing capacity, higher pregnancy rate and weaning rate, greater sperm concentration, larger scrotal circumference and reduced age at puberty. Published research proves the reproductive advantages of crossbred bulls. Purebred Gelbvieh bulls used on high percentage Angus or Red Angus commercial cows produce Balancer calves that meet all industry demands from the pasture to the feedyard to the rail.
For producers needing heat tolerant cattle the American Gelbvieh Association offers the Southern Balancer® program. The Southern Balancer combines 6.25-50 percent Bos indicus breeding with at least 25 percent Gelbvieh genetics. This combination produces cattle with superior maternal strengths, market acceptability and environment adaptability.
“At a BIF meeting in 2010, it hardly seems fit to even mention crossbreeding. Commercial producers who have not yet adopted it are a burden to the beef industry,” said Matt Spangler, Beef Genetics Extension Specialist, University of Nebraska. “However, it (crossbreeding) is an excellent example of selection for profitability. We know that the two primary benefits of crossbreeding are complementing the strengths of two or more breeds and heterosis, neither of which create trait maximums. If we think about it simplistically, crossbreeding for a trait like weaning weight leaves us with a calf crop that is better than the average of the parental lines, not better than both parental lines. Crossbreeding, if done correctly, seeks to optimize many traits through complementing breed strengths and produce animals that are better than the average of the parental lines that created them. The best tool that the commercial cattleman ever had is based on optimization, not the production of extremes. So, it would stand to reason that within breed selection should have the same goal, optimums and not maximums.”