Heterosis: The breeding tool to improve beef production

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

  • Heterosis is the mating of two different types, or breeds, of cattle with genetic differences.
  • The genetic effect seen in the progeny represents an improvement in the production value of all important beef production.
  • The Brahman is one of the best breeds to use in a crossbreeding programme. The Brahman is a Zebu breed (Bos indicus) known for its different look – tropical traits such as a hump, loose-hanging, thicker skin, and longer ears.
  • Maximum heterosis is expressed in the progeny when mating the Brahman with Bos taurus breeds such as the Simmentaler, Hereford or Angus. The female cross cow produced in this type of cross is unsurpassed in her production ability.
  • The maximum value of heterosis is produced by crossing breeds such as a Brahman x Taurus type.

Breeders often encounter the term ‘heterosis’, or hybrid vigour. But what exactly does it entail? Heterosis is the mating of two different types, or breeds, of cattle with genetic differences. The genetic effect seen in the progeny represents an improvement in the production value of all important beef production traits such as growth, fertility, and milk yield. (Note that the genetic effect of crossbreeding is the opposite to that of inbreeding.)

Crossbreeding the Brahman

The Brahman is one of the best breeds to use in a crossbreeding programme. The Brahman is a Zebu breed (Bos indicus) known for its different look – tropical traits such as a hump, loose-hanging, thicker skin, and longer ears. Also notable is the Brahman’s excellent mothering ability, calving ease, longevity, ability to adapt to different veld types, and heat resistance.

Maximum heterosis is expressed in the progeny when mating the Brahman with Bos taurus breeds such as the Simmentaler, Hereford or Angus. The female cross cow produced in this type of cross is unsurpassed in her production ability.

According to Prof Bob Weaber of Kansas State University in the United States (US), hybrid vigour improves the calving rate by 6%, the ability of the calf to survive to weaning age by 4%, weaning weight by 8%, the calf’s weight at one year by 4%, carcass characteristics by up to 2%, and the weaning weight per cow that conceives by 23%.

At a previous Livestock Registering Federation (LRF) Stockman School at Aldam, Prof Weaber said that producers and breeders should aim to improve feed conversion efficiency so their cows can maintain condition to reconceive and successfully wean their calves.

Animals that are well adapted to the environments in which they are farmed should exhibit better feed conversion efficiency; however, producers and breeders who want to improve efficiencies must pay attention to this trait as the environment will not change to suit the cows.

The direct advantage of heterosis entails additional values for important production traits. Almost 52% of all commercial beef cow herds contribute at least a 50% Brahman genetic influence, as stated in a study conducted by the University of the Free State’s Department of Agricultural Economics.

More information about Structural evaluation of the Brahman

Production goals for Heterosis

The maximum value of heterosis is produced by crossing breeds such as a Brahman x Taurus type. If you have a herd of Brahman-type females, you would do well to cross them with a Taurus-type bull. If your cow herd is predominantly a Sanga- or Taurus-type, use a purebred Brahman bull to produce the next generation.

By using a synthetic breed with Brahman influence in its genes, you will be able to retain the effect of heterosis in your commercial herd.

According to Prof Joe Paschal, former specialist livestock consultant at Texas A&M University in the US and current executive vice-president of the American Brahman Breeders’ Association, research conducted by the university confirmed a 95% pregnancy status in F1 females, 87% weaning, and an average weaning weight of 259kg at seven months. The female F1 animals were crossed with a third breed and their production lifespan improved to an average of 12,3 years. The message is clear – use purebred B-Brand Brahman bulls for maximum heterosis effect! – Sytze Smit, Brahman SA

For enquiries, visit www.brahman.co.za.

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