Bovine Engineering and Consulting
Gearld Fry 193 Fry Rd. -  Rose Bud, AR   72137

Creating Predictable Herd Genetics for Good Eating Grassfed Beef
by Gearld Fry

Crossbreeding is primarily used by the commercial producer to achieve a high degree of hybrid vigor that is largely expressed in a higher average daily gain in the calves. Thanks to this hybrid vigor the crossbred calf will gain better than either of its purebred parents.

A genetic downside of this extra gain is normally a slight drop in meat tenderness. This is not too noticeable as long as the two breeds crossed are genetically tender.

However, all crossbreeding programs were originally proposed to be for terminal purposes only. This is because only the results of the first cross are genetically predictable.

At the time it was first proposed, it was thought that producers would maintain a separate purebred herd to produce replacement females for their main herd but they didn’t.

Today’s genetic problems really started with ranchers keeping crossbred heifers as replacements.
For example, If you keep the black baldy heifer as a replacement and her father was a Hereford bull the half blood cow should then be bred back to an Angus bull to produce a 3/4 blood Angus calf. Then that 3/4 blood Angus heifer bred back to a Hereford bull to produce a 3/4 blood Hereford.

This method of breeding will keep hybrid vigor at a higher level and selection for quality more controlled.
However, notice the number of herds that must be kept separate for this program to work. This was really onerous for ranchers practicing rotational grazing where each herd had to have its own set of paddocks.

After a few years, most ranchers became hopelessly lost as to who was bred to whom. Usually what resulted was that all the cows were run together and bull breeds were switched periodically to try to maintain a certain color or color combination.
Eventually, most just bought whatever was fashionable at that moment and the result is the mongrelized mess we have today.
What has been totally forgotten is the effect of heterosis greatly diminishes after the first cross. Today, most of us are into our 30th or so cross.

The end result of this initial great crossbreeding idea has been a mongrelized, unpredictable cowherd with no hybrid vigor and an ever-diminishing eating quality in its meat.

In a desire to simplify breeding programs, some seedstock providers adopted the composite bull theory. In other words, a crossbred bull for crossbred cows.

Unfortunately, this just makes the problem worse.

In fact, I do not know of any trait, quality or performance problem in today’s cattle industry that a crossbred bull could solve..

Now, new breeds can begin with a well planned and thought out crossbreeding plan with selected animals. Most of these new breeds are bred to solve specific environmental problems such as increasing resistance to tick-borne diseases.
With a new breed, strong selection pressures must be imposed on the bulls and females. However, new breed development takes a lot of knowledge, dedication, commitment and time; lots and lots of time. Much more time that most of us have in a working lifetime.

As a result, there is a great temptation to start selling bulls that have not yet become genetically "fixed" and are really just unpredictable crossbred bulls.

Now, even the traditional "purebred" breeds allow such crossbred anomalies as Black Herefords and Black Simmentals. These are excellent examples of the seedstock industry following the whims of fashion rather than maintaining strong, predictable genetics.

If there is as much difference within a breed as there is between a breed, what does the breed stand for? Nothing!
As I have frequently said, the more you learn about the North American seedstock industry the more you will see it as the source of our genetic problems rather than a solution.

We’re in a genetic mess where at least 30% of the beef we produce is too tough even when it is grown out and fattened correctly. How do we turn it around?

We have to go back to the beginning and take a look at the linebreeding programs that developed all of our traditional "purebred" breeds.


The reasons for linebreeding are to genetically concentrate specific genetic traits, characteristics and production needs. This gene pool (herd) concentration is especially important in the herd sires.

As I have previously discussed, building a maternal gene pool is cheap and easy with crossbreeding. However, building a paternal gene pool requires a level of incestuous type breeding.

Incestuous breeding will line up the unwanted recessive genes in the progeny produced, and therefore demands a strict selection procedure for the replacements females that are put back in the herd and far greater selection pressure on the sire.
This necessity for stringent culling means it is more expensive. This expense was the value foundation for seedstock bringing a premium price over commercially bred cattle.

Crossbred and out-crossed seedstock do not have a similar value basis for seeking a premium price and are genetically worth no more than commercial cattle.

Breeding a sire to a group of his own daughters is the best way to test the progress, strength and success of a paternal breeding program. With the paternal family (male and female) established the daughters that come from a linebred paternal breeding program should be better than their mothers.

The paternal linebred females (helpmates) will possess the type of genetic makeup required to assist the sire in producing the desired performance, herd and breed characteristics needed and for the utilization of grass, performance and quality of product.

The females produced (third or fourth generation) in a paternal linebreeding management program can be breed to their uncles, cousins sired by their father, possibly to their half brothers and sometime to their grandfathers.

There should be at least four or more female paternal family lines established in this gene pool by the same sire so the possibility of genetic repression in future generations could be avoided by selecting bulls from the different females. The possibility of genetic repression after four to six generations should be guarded against with much wisdom and vigilance.
Remember you cannot create new genes.

You concentrate the ones you have in your sire through the paternal dams. It is only through this method that you can change the progeny produced.

Also, remember in the future after the paternal gene pool is established if there is need for change you must find an outside female with the desired characteristics and introduce her to the paternal sire with characteristics the closest to your needs.
You never bring in an outside sire!

The most important thing in beginning a linebreeding program is the sire you choose to begin the gene pool with.
Starting with a superior bull (mostly through AI) is a must for building the type of animal, production, utilization of grass and quality of food product you expect.

If possible purchase an already established paternal linebred bull to begin your gene pool with. This will save a lot of time.
While all of this sounds like a lot of work - and it is - it is the only way to get the predictability we need for a premium-priced grassfed meat product. Most of us have good maternal cowherds. What we need is a BULL!

I have no doubt that most ranchers will not want to make this effort and will prefer to buy their bulls from the few who will. That’s what makes a market.

However, you need to realize that such an animal will not come cheap.
Solutions to intractable problems never do.

I predict those few who are willing to go to the time and expense to create paternally powerful bulls will be richly rewarded for their efforts.

Gearld Fry
193 Fry Rd.
Rose Bud, AR   72137
Telephone - 501-454-3252



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