More USlessons to learn

6 March 1998

More USlessons to learn

More USlessons to learn

US beef producers are

making profits, without

subsidy, at a sale price of

85p/kg, with 95% of cattle

hitting target specification.

The last in our three-part

series explains how

BEEF production in the UK must become more sensitive to the benefits of breeding technology to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

That is the view Richard Fuller of the Yorkshire-based Beef Improvement Group.

Having studied beef production systems in the US, Mr Fuller suggests that estimated breeding values (EBVs) should be introduced to encourage the improvement of maternal traits in our native breeds. The current BLUP evaluations concentrate on growth, muscling and leanness, and this is having a detrimental effect on maternal characteristics such as milking ability and maintenance costs, believes Mr Fuller.

"On the tour we were impressed by the co-operation and direction of the beef industry which extended from researchers to breeders and finishers. This led to a constant flow of information between sectors of the industry which enabled producers to adjust to breeding programmes to meet improved target specifications for which they were well paid," says Mr Fuller.

He believes the US breeders have already identified ways of producing the cow type he sees as the optimum sucker of the future. "The US are now about 10 years ahead of the UK dam line development, and focus on maximising economic targets by manipulating breed types," says Mr Fuller.

US researchers have established that composite breeding not only retains most of the hybrid vigour of the first cross but it also creates consistent performance and carcass grading. Mr Fuller urges British beef producers to consider the principles of the research and its practical application.

Part of the groups tour of the US took in breeders and feed lots where composite breeding programmes are resulting in the profitable production of consistent, high quality beef for the US market.

Leland Leachmans Hairpin Ranch, Montana, runs 2000 cows producing three composite breeding types, two high meat yielding and one very easy calving for use on heifers – from pure-bred South Devon, Gelbvieh, Simmental, Hereford and Red and Black Angus.

"With an average age of 10 years the effect of breeding for longevity was apparent. Likewise the natural selection for robustness was obvious. Cows are never housed and able to survive on straw and protein blocks in harsh winters where annual snowfall averages 100 inches and temperatures drop to 20 degrees of frost.

"The cowss functional robustness is then tested further as the extreme winter gives way to baking heat which burns off the grass by the end of June," he says.

The best heifers are retained and mated at 15 months old to calve at two years. To accelerate genetic improvement all cows are planned-mated to top bulls, many of which are the best young bulls born in previous calf crop. Despite the free ranching system, no stock bulls are used and all cows are AId with 93% in-calf within three cycles, explains Mr Fuller. This demonstrates the high level of fertility within the breeding population.

In spite of the harsh grazing conditions the calves, with no creep feed, thrive and achieve impressive weaning weights, with bull calves averaging 310kg and heifer calves 270kg. All the calves are fully recorded using a system similar to our EBV evaluations.

However, useful additional traits such as pelvic area and reproductive tract scores, which indicates ease of calving, are also included. Frame score is measured in young and adult cattle to monitor growth and final size. These measurements are then used to balance optimum cow size with carcass weight of progeny, while carcass measurements include rib eye area and marbling scores. This data is collected at the processors and fed directly back to the breeder to be used to regulate selection.

Performance of cattle produced in the composite programme is consistently predictable. Feed lot operators are able to book in on a specific day finished cattle to the processors weeks in advance at a fixed contract price. This gives tight control of economic targets.

Nebraska feed lot owner Alan Janssen was finishing 35,000 steers and heifers to average live weights of 620kg for steers and 550kg for heifers with steers averaging 1.8kg a day during the finishing period.

The growth rate is achieved from two diets, and the use of hormone implants and in-feed additives increases growth rates by 15%. The grower ration is designed to put on 100kg and is made up of ground hay, rolled maize and distillers grains. This is followed by a finishing ration which converts at 6.3kg DM/kg and is made up of rolled maize, maize silage and ground hay.

These diets enable Alan Janssen to produce a profit of £60 a head from a sale price of 85p/kg with 95% of cattle hitting the top grading specification.

"Obviously our UK herd sizes are far smaller but there are opportunities for producers to co-operate to benefit from forming larger groups," says Mr Fuller.

He beleives there are already excellent suckler calf groups in the UK where members could work more closely together to benefit from breed improvement. Their collective knowledge could also help to reduce costs and to improve marketing power. This would be a positive step towards being able to compete successfully in the world market where, given the marketing opportunity, US producers believe they could double production in four years to capture a large part of the EU market.


&#8226 Making profits of £60 a head at a sale price 85p/kg.

&#8226 Using composite cows.

&#8226 Progeny are heavier.

With robustness selected for in-breeding programmes, this even-sized group of composite heifers can be mated at 15-months-old for composite calving.

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