Crossbreeding is all in the Genes
Crossbreeding really took off in the 1970s, and a host of breeds began flowing into the
United States. Since that time, studies have shown there has been a clear increase in production through the
use of cross-bred cow herds, so its benefits and impact to the cattle rancher can not underestimated.
There is always a period of what is known as “inbreeding
depression” with any new breed of livestock, when conception is reduced and survival rates noticeably decrease.
But, properly managed, crossbreeding eventually restores and strengthens the herd, noticeably increasing
reproduction and longevity.
This advantage gained from the sum of
both parents is known as heterosis or hybrid vigor, and is demonstrable when a smaller framed cow breed is bred
with a larger framed breed. The resulting calve will not necessarily be larger than the largest parent, but it will
be larger than the smaller parent. Therefore, the new breed has a larger frame size overall, thus increasing the
size of the herd over time. The benefits of heterosis manifest themselves in maternal, growth and carcass traits.
These include improvements to daily growth, quality of the beef, among others. By selecting different cows with
different traits to crossbreed, you can achieve different benefits through heterosis. Combining a different breed
to meet marketing goals or fit into a different range environment is known as complimentary crossbreeding.
Benefits Outweigh the Costs
While crossbreeding benefits can yield higher productivity in both dairy and beef cattle,
you must also remember that this increased production also means an increase in care of the herd. Forage costs and
amounts will go up when a cow produces more milk. Larger cattle require more food to sustain themselves as well.
The costs of increased feed amounts are largely outweighed by the benefits of a stronger more productive and more
marketable herd, though, so don’t let increased food or other costs deter you from establishing a cross-breeding
In the U.S., no beef cattle is superior to another, and breeds should instead be chosen
and crossbred based on other factors, such as climate, desired product and production goals. Prior to establishing
a crossbreeding system, make sure to determine exactly what you want the outcome of your herd to be and become
acutely aware of the nutritional values in available feed and the local climatology.
Do the Homework, Know your Breeds
Also, different breed strengths usually come with other, less favorable, weaknesses.
Certain breeds, for example, may increase the overall growth rate of the herd; however, one of their weaknesses may
be less ability to store fat for times of low nutrition. Make sure to study the pros and cons of each breed. You
can set limits on the amount of effect you would like a particular breed to influence the herd as well, using
different breeds to crossbreed with a smaller percentage of the herd to obtain desired results in a select few of
Also, remember cattle need to be managed according to the crossbreeding system you’ve
established. Additional pastures may be necessary to keep certain types separated. For smaller areas, rotational
crossbreeding has proven an effective technique, and is more manageable for the smaller rancher.
As with any crossbreeding system; however, make sure it is well planned, managed and
documented to avoid missteps.
Cows and Winter