There you are, junior year of college, Beef Production 301. The professor is drawing big circles on the board. He’s outlining mating systems and discussing the intricacies of each. He talks about three-way cross terminal systems, composite breeding programs and two rotational crossbreeding. You got this. Fast forward 20 years; you don’t got this. What was it that he was saying about terminal crosses again?
Sometimes having a refresher on all the systems out there is a good thing. There are a lot of new and cutting-edge technologies within the beef industry today. Whether it be cloning, drones, or new data analytics software, the future is bright. It is important to get out there and get experience, find guys to talk to, to able to put new systems into place that could benefit your own herd. One concept that is ripe & ready to bring back are terminal breeding systems. At some point along the way, many people abandoned terminal breeding systems in favor of simpler strategies. With all of the varied environments, markets, and operator talents there is a lot of room for diversity. However, the majority of producers that I talk with are buying bulls of only one breed. This certainly is a legitimate breeding system that has its merits. The other really common strategy I have seen is to use composite bulls. Again, a very good strategy. Fewer still are breeding purebred stock for a two-way rotation. All of these common strategies have their positives. I just feel like there is room to go back in the textbook and put a new spin on a couple lesser utilized systems.
The easiest one to put a new spin on would be the terminal cross scenario. This has worked for lots of people and is tremendous for raising the most pounds of weaned calf per acre. Currently, most people are buying bred heifers or cows and then buying terminal bulls and never retaining a female. This actually looks great from a banking perspective. You never have the lag time of developing a heifer calf into a cow- which seriously hampers cash flow. It's also really easy to breed for what the feeders want when you have no maternal objectives in your bull buying. The biggest drawback of the current system is finding consistent, reasonably priced, and high-quality replacements. (I’ll discuss this in a later article) With the new technology today this allows for two additional breeding strategies to boost this system. The first would be to have a commercial breeder with a maternal breed such as Angus or Red Angus who focus on raising replacement females for the open market. The first step would be to sort his females based on phenotype, actual records, and genetic testing. Once the producer knew where his herd stood he could then start shopping for A.I. bulls. It would be critical for him to use sexed semen and perhaps go two, maybe even three cycles breeding. This would allow him to:
1. Be more precise with accurate records and DNA to know exactly what he needs to breed to.
2. Concentrate much harder on maternal traits. This would include allowing a little smaller cow size since his customers will be breeding to terminal bulls.
3. Up the percentage of heifers born in his herd. For example, if he had 100 cows and he went two cycles with sexed semen and only got 50% conception he would have 75 cows bred A.I. With the 95% sexed semen sorting accuracy, he would have around 71 A.I. heifers born. With natural breeding that would put him at a total of 83 heifers born out of 100 cows.
It's important to note that sexed semen alone will not get you there. You have to be accurate about your mating decisions. The other scenario piggy backs upon this same concept. The change is that the terminal breeder himself would have a small group of "seed stock" females that he would treat the same as described above. One of the biggest advantages of this system is the ability to develop your females on the grass and in the production system they will be a part of. There are several studies proving that heifers raised with their mothers become above average grazers. There are also disease aversion advantages to this more closed herd system. There are many advocates for running a crossbred cow and the advantages are well documented. You can incorporate heterosis into this system, it just gets a little more complicated. In order to do it yourself would require another management herd and more cow numbers. There is no perfect mating system and one size does not fit all. But, it does look like there is room for more commercial cattleman to adopt this kind of a system. It would allow for someone to have the best of both worlds. Not only could you have smaller cows that eat less feed (tell your wife she can finally go to Hawaii!) plus you would no longer have to worry about how to market their less than desirable progeny to the feeding sector (tell your wife you’ll be less grumpy come tax time!). Instead, you could run more cows that would be weaning off calves that are exactly what your downstream customers prefer.
Want to talk cows? Give me a call. Tyler Gray 402-310-5056