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Composite Cattle Breeders Alliance holds meeting, tour of Texas ranches

published: September 19th 1997
by: Julie Smiley Foster

Just as a computer is built and loaded with specific software to meet the demands of a particular en-terprise, so,more and more cattle producers are choosing beef cattle composites to maximize production within their specific environments.

About 150 cattle producers from across the Uni-ted States and Canada met August 7 to 9 in Wichita Falls, Texas, for the Com-posite Cattle Breeders International Alliance an-nual meeting. Organized by Dr. Dave Daley, Cali-fornia State University, Chico, this was the seventh meeting and tour to focus on composite cattle breeding.

“The only function of the Alliance is educational. We have a tour and educational meeting each year,” said Daley. “We don’t just talk about composites, but about the cattle industry as a whole.”

Daley said the meetings and organization are small enough and”looselyknit enough” for informal exchange. In the past, the annual tour has brought together academia and ranchers from as far away as Zimbabwe, South Africa and Latin America.

Dr. Ronnie Green, Co-lorado State University, launched the meeting with a review of composite beef cattle systems. Simply stated, a composite is a combination of two or more breeds combined in a composite fixed percentage. The real advantage of composite breeding is retaining heterosis (hybrid vigor) as seen in increased fertility and size of calf weaned, according to Green.

Cattle producers select breeds, each with qualities of merit, and build a composite that deals with the antagonisms of their specific environment. Ranchers in warm, humid environments will probably in-clude Bos indicus or Brah-man-influenced cattle in their composite system.

Green said the general rules are to first, form the composite, and second, breed within the composite once it is formed. This takes time to develop, is very complex, and requires a minimum of 400 to 500 females.

Choosing the best breed components is critical to a successful composite. “Each breed component needs merit going into the cross. You can’t cross two bad components and get a good cross, said Green. Other considerations are the correct percent of each breed to meet environmental and other constraints, exploiting breed differences to optimize milk production and size, and the order of crossing.

Since increased hybrid vigor is a driving force for breeding composites, it is important to choose unrelated sires to avoid close matings and eventual loss of heterosis.

Green said some of the problems with composite seedstock are name recognition, accuracy of genetic predictions (EPDs), and the perception of variability within the composite breed. “In advanced composite generations it is hard to look at mixed-color composite castle and be-lieve there is less variability and not more,” he said.

“We oversimplify gene-tics. We don’t know how many genes affect growth in cattle. We know color, and can trace it in a few genes,” said Green. “We can’t trace milk and weaning weights so easily be-cause of the many genes involved in those traits.”

With a foundation of information laid, the tour buses made their first stop at Spade Ranches, Wagon Creek Division, Seymour, Texas. Five ouffits make up Spade Ranches, managed by W.J. “Dub” Waldrip and Jim McAdams.

Waldrip said the four-breed commercial rotation used on the ranches has been in place for about 30 years. They first crossed Brown Swiss bulls with Hereford cows. “It sounded silly in West Texas, but we were happy with the Brown Swiss-Hereford cross,” said Waldrip.

Not able to find enough Brown Swiss bulls, the remainder of cows were bred to Angus bulls. Simmental genetics were added later.

Today the four-breed rotation is Hereford x Braunvieh x Angus x Simmental. Waldrip said the rotation spaces the larger breed (Braunvieh, Simmental) with the Bri-tish breeds to keep the cows from getting too big. The 9/16 Hereford cows will spend their lives with Braunvieh bulls, and so on through the rotation.

The commercial rotation switched from beef-type Brown Swiss bulls to Braunvieh in the 1980s as Braunvieh genetics be-came more available.

“We like the carcass data on the Braunvieh breed,” said Jim Mc-Adams.

In addition to cattle from the rotation, Mc-Adams showed the tour members Spade Ranches’ experiment with a composite breed. The composite is 9/16 Angus 1/4 Braunvieh 1/8 Hereford and 1/16 Simmental. McAdams said they now have a first set of composite calves from composite bulls and, “we want to see where it leads.”These first steers and heifers have performed “about the same” as the four-breed rotation calves.

Practicing strict culling, McAdams said bulls kept for the composite breed must be black, polled and exhibit desirable breed characteristics.

In order to “make a cow,” McAdams said the heifers are treated just like cows, and are not supplemented. First-calf heifers are bred to low-birthweight Jersey bulls. He said they may lose money on the Jersey calves, but in the long run the ranches have cows to fit their environments.

Spade Ranches maintain four registered herds providing seedstock for its commercial operation. The registered Hereford and Simmental herds are located at the Renderbrook Spade Ranch in Mitchell County, Texas. The registered Angus and Braun-vieh herds are located in New Mexico at the Chap-pell Spade Ranch. Bulls from these four herds are used in the rotation.

Featuring a composite breed that is beyond the experimental stage, the R.A. Brown Ranch, Thro-ckmorton, Texas, next hos-ted the tour. The Hotlan-der four-breed composite was developed at the ranch.

Its components are 1/4 Red Angus 1/4 Senepol 5/16 Simmental and 3/16 Brahman.

Like Spade Ranches, Rob Brown said he began crossing cows with Brown Swiss bulls in the mid 1960s. However, marketing the calves proved to be difficult, so Simmental was added to the cross.

After some research into heat-tolerant Bos Taurus breeds, Brown said in the early 1980s they flew in two plane loads of Senepol cattle from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

One of Brown’s sons, Donnell, called the Sene-pol addition a, “bright spot in heat-tolerant cattle.” He said they have been pleas-ed with the moderate size of the polled Senepol breed, their disposition, fertility end carcass tenderness.

The ranch maintains registered Simmental, Angus, Red Angus, Sene-pol, Senegus, and Simbrah herds in addition to their commercial herds.

The first generation Hotlander composite comes from a Senegus female (1/2 Senepol 1/2 Red Angus) bred to a Simbrah bull. According to Dr. Green, this composite retains about 74.2 percent of original heterosis.

In keeping with Brown Ranch’s focus on moderate size, cattle that flesh well on forage, and positive carcass traits, Donnell Brown said the Hotlander meets their expectations.

The younger Brown said they Al all first-calf heifers, and put two-year-old females on wheat pasture after calving in January.

Bulls are weaned in late October, put on wheat pasture from December until March, then moved to native pasture until July. The bulls are then put in 30 to 80-acre traps and fed a 50 percent roughage diet in preparation for their bull sale the second Wednesday in October.

If composite cattle perform better on the ranch in terms of greater fertility and weaning larger calves, the next tests come in the feedlot, at the packer, and, finally with the consumer.

Minnie Lou Bradley, B3R Country also spoke to the group. B3R Country, Childress, Texas, was started in 1986 by Bradley and her daughter, Mary Lou. “I had the idea, but Mary Lou makes sure it happens,” said the elder Bradley of their detail, consumer-oriented approach to the meat packing business.

“The only reason we are here today is that we are giving the consumer a consistent quality product.” said Minnie Lou.

We encourage producers to retain ownership through the feedyard and on to the rail.

Two yards meet Brad-ley’s rigid requirements for feeding cattle. McLean Feeders, McLean and Heritage Feedyard, Whee-ler. Both Texas feedyards are about 70 miles from the plant.

She said each calf enters the feedyard as an individual, is tagged and weighed.

Without the use of implants, Bradley said management is a big factor to cattle grading on the rail “Management begins at home, even before the calf is conceived - is the cow healthy?”

B3R pays cattle producers using a value-based payment schedule.”The rancher can make up to $160 per head in premiums,” according to Brad-ley. She said they pay premiums for carcass weight, yield grade, quality grade, hide quality and more.

In addition to the premiums, a producer receives information gathered from each carcasses on 40 traits. “We give more information on the cattle than other packing plants. We measure each ribeye, weigh the kidney and pelvic fat from each carcass,” Brad-ley said.

For the consumer, Bradley said they provide a phone number the buying public can call and get information about the cut of beef they have purchased and how it was handled. In the future, she said she hopes they will have a label explaining the beef product, its name, a recipe and even the pan size needed for preparation.

She said there is no perfect breed of cattle which will excel in all areas.

A new composite with good carcass traits is the Santa Cruz, introduced by Hal Hawkins, reproduction physiologist at the King Ranch, Kingsville, Texas.

Using Santa Gertrudis genetics, another composite developed years ago by the King Ranch, the Santa Cruz is 1/2  Santa Gertrudis 1/4 Red Angus and 1/4 Gelbvieh. “We like what we see in the Santa Cruz,” said Hawkins. They are moderate in size, have good fertility and carcass traits.” He said King Ranch demands fertility in the cattle.

With data in hand on 480 Santa Cruz females, Hawkins said 55 percent calved in the first 20 days of the calving season, based on a 60-day season. This information combined with an emphasis on fertility, he said, has caused them to shorten the breeding season to 45 days.

Selection criterion for Santa Cruz are a breeding soundness evaluation, average daily gain, birthweight and a 34 cm. scrotal circumference in the bulls.

Dr. Jim Sanders, Texas A&M University, updated participants on a study now under way at the Mc-Gregor Experiment Sta-tion, McGregor, Texas focusing on heterosis retention in Bos Indicus cattle.

Most ranchers in the southern tier of the United States see the value of a Bos indicus-Bos taurus F1 female, said Sanders. His study will examine the crossings of four breeds, Angus, Hereford, Nelore and Brahman, and resulting heterosis reduction or retention.

He said the study’s emphasis is cow productivity, calf crop percent born, weights and traits of calves, and heterosis retention. Currently, all 14 groups of crosses are being raised at the McGregor station so the test animals will be climatized to the same environment.

Other speakers included Dr. John Keele, USM-ARC, reviewing marker assisted selection; Dr. John Pollack, Cornell Universi-ty, speaking on genetic evaluation of composites; and Bruce Cunningham, Simmental Association, on record systems.

The Composite Breed-ers Alliance plans to meet in Calgary, Alberta, Can-ada, in 1998 for meetings and tour.

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