Many Angus cattle ranchers are not pleased that Oklahoma State University professor Dave Lalman is questioning the yield and breeding vigor of their herds.
“The big picture is that — and this is politically shaky ground — but the cattle industry in recent years has chosen to pass on crossbreeding and has heavily used the Angus breed,” Lalman said. “And there are many positives to that.
“My concern is that what little data is available shows that the commercial cow-calf producer on average has not improved in productivity over the past 10-20 years,” he said. “They have not increased weaning weight; they have not increased pregnancy rate.”
Lalman recently was in the spotlight at the Alltech International Symposium on the Future of Agriculture in Lexington, Ky., where he presented an overview of beef cattle changes in the U.S. over a century and asked whether cattle ranchers are as efficient as they could be. Since the 1960s, the cattle industry has largely set aside an openness to explore crossbreeding, he said, and ranchers need to reconsider that decision.
He held up Angus cattle as an example because the breed is so popular for U.S. beef. Texas and Oklahoma are the two fastest-growing states in terms of Angus registration.
“I’ve received much feedback from Angus ranchers, yes,” he said. “And they’re not entirely happy. But that’s OK. It’s a conversation we need to have.”
Don Abernathy, a director at large for the Oklahoma Angus Association, disagreed with Lalman. Abernathy runs a ranch in Altus.
“Our Angus breed has such a large genetic base that crossbreeding is not needed,” he said. “There are more cattle registered Angus per year than all other breeds put together. There’s no reason to cross.
“Right now I would tell someone to buy Angus heifers and breed them pure because you’ll have more carcass and when you get your paycheck, it’ll be obvious they pay more money.”
Abernathy said a friend recently bred one of his longhorns to an Angus. The calves of solid color brought 15 cents per pound more, he said. It’s only a single example, but it suggests that ranchers should consider crossing their breeds with Angus for better attributes.
“The breed is so large that I can go to Canada and pick up a registered Angus for breeding,” Abernathy said. “What’s the point? Hybrid vigor. Some will say that’s impossible within the same breed, but it is. It’s like me going to England to get me a wife — the hybrid vigor will still be there and the kids would be two or three inches taller than we are.”
Lalman said a good breeding program requires commitment, a long-term perspective and a deeper understanding of genetics. Studies show that if a purebred female is crossed with enough difference in the gene pool, the first generation will show an increased weaned calf weight of about 25 percent in offspring over a lifetime, he said.
“It is complicated, and you’ve got to present both sides of the story,” he said. “The industry went through a pretty long period where they sort of overdid that and we ended up with all kinds of variation because people didn’t use a planned crossbreeding program. They’d just jump on a fad and then switch breeds again a few years later. And before long they didn’t have consistent product.”
The primary drawback is a commitment to multiple breeding pastures; the average size of a cattle operation in Oklahoma is 32 cows, Lalman said. Simpler operations cost less. The big advantages of increased productivity and longevity outweigh those issues in the long run, however.
“The industry could benefit from careful crossbreeding — that’s the bottom line,” he said.