Breed selection

In beef production, the principle objectives are:

  • weight of beef sold per cow mated or per unit area of grazing land
  • quality of beef sold per cow mated or per unit area of grazing land

A number of variables influence these production objectives:

  • fertility
  • structural soundness
  • survivability/mortality
  • growth rate
  • maturity rate
  • maternal ability
  • environmental adaptation
  • carcase characteristics

Genetic variation within breeds

Within breeds, there are variations within the accepted norms. That is, genetic variability exists so that not all animals in late maturing breeds are large or marble poorly and not all animals in early maturing breeds are small or have sufficient fat cover.

For many traits, there may be as much variation genetically within a breed as there is between breeds.

Variation within a breed is usually an advantage, but is not a pre-requisite to successful crossbreeding. With Brahmans, for example, there is less variation for tick resistance than for other breeds. This is a benefit as most Brahmans have a higher level of tick resistance.

Differences between breeds

Breed selection can be a source of debate. Some breeds have characteristics better suited for certain feed conditions or particular environments than have others: no one breed is the best for all environments and all markets.

There are over 40 breeds of cattle available for selection in Australia. Breeds have been loosely ranked according to the broad strengths exhibited by large numbers of animals in large scale trials. For example, continental breeds are generally larger with leaner carcases than British breeds.

Given certain parameters such as climate, breed rankings may be shown in terms of birth weight, likely calving difficulty, milk production, growth rate, carcass fat, lean/bone ratio and age of puberty. Differences claimed by many breed groups relative to other breeds are not always supported by quantifiable objective data.

Breed complementarity

The choice of breeds used in a crossbreeding program should take into consideration the complementarity of different breeds. This is the opportunity to match the good points of two or more breeds.

Complementarity is exploited in specialised crossbreeding systems. An example would be where maternal crossbred cows of small to medium size and optimum milk production might be mated to terminal breed sires noted for good growth rate and high quality carcases.

Fluctuation in genotype

In rotational crossbreeding systems, fluctuation in breed composition for the major economic traits can result in considerable variation among cows and calves between generations. This may be of importance if cattle are marketed through saleyards where uniformity may be important.

Specific breed rankings

Specific rankings for various breeds are on Table 1. Due to variation ‘within breed’ this table is only to be used as a guide.

Table 1. Breed rankings in a temperate climate (unless otherwise indicated) for dam calving difficulty, milk production and growth rate

A Sire breed effect
B Dam breed effect
C When slaughtered at the same weight
D The higher the lean/bone ratio, the more valuable the carcase
* Sire mated to Bos taurus (non-zebu cow)
# Sires and Dams mated to the same breed
• Extremely stressful environments, e.g. for north Australia

Dam calving difficulty Milk production (B) Growth rate (A)
Tropical (•) Temperate
Simmental Friesian Brahman Maine Anjou
Charolais Jersey Sahiwal Blond
Blond D’Aquitaine Africander D’Aquitaine
South Devon Brown Swiss Droughtmaster Charolais
Limousin Simmental Santa Gertrudis Gelbvieh
Red Poll Sahiwal Belmont Red Simmental
Hereford Gelbvieh Chianina
Red Poll Angus
Maine Anjou Beef Shorthorn South Devon
Gelbvieh Brahman Galloway Brown Swiss
Devon Santa Gertrudis Jersey Friesian
Brown Swiss Droughtmaster South Devon
Friesian South Devon Brown Swiss American Angus
Murray Grey Maine Anjou Friesian Limousin
Beef Shorthorn Blond D’Aquitaine American Angus Hereford
Galloway Charolais Limousin Belmont Red
Angus Chianina Hereford Santa Gertrudis
Chianina Angus Murray Grey Droughtmaster
Jersey Beef Shorthorn Red Poll Murray Grey
Murray Grey Devon Red Poll
Belmont Red Limousin Gelbvieh Brahman
Santa Gertrudis Galloway Maine Anjou Africander
Droughtmaster Devon Charolais Sahiwal
Brahman Blond D’Aquitaine Devon
Africander Belmont Red Simmental
Sahiwal Africander Chianina Angus
Hereford Beef Shorthorn

Source: Adapted from ‘Breeding for profit’ 2009, page 15.

Table 2. Breed rankings in a temperate climate (unless otherwise indicated) for carcase fat, lean/bone ratio and earliness of puberty

Carcase fat (C) Lean/bone ratio (D) Earliness of puberty
Beef Shorthorn Blond D’Aquitaine Jersey
Jersey Limousine
Charolais Friesian
Angus Chianina Angus
Galloway Galloway
Red Poll Maine Anjou Murray Grey
Hereford Gelbvieh Beef Shorthorn
Devon Simmental Red Poll
Brahman South Devon Brown Swiss
Sahiwal Murray Grey Gelbvieh
Murray Grey Angus South Devon
Galloway Simmental
Belmont Red Brown Swiss Maine Anjou
Santa Gertrudis Belmont Red
Africander Red Poll
Droughtmaster Hereford Hereford
Friesian Devon Devon
South Devon Sahiwal Santa Gertrudis
Brown Swiss Belmont Red Droughtmaster
Gelbvieh Santa Gertrudis Africander
Africander Sahiwal
Limousin Droughtmaster Blond D’Aquitaine
Maine Anjou Brahman Charolais
Simmental Beef Shorthorn Limousin
Charolais Friesian
Blond D’Aquitaine Jersey Brahman

Source: ‘Breeding for profit’ 2009, page 15.

For more information about breed selection visit the Tropical Beef Technology Services website. You may also like to consider attending a Breeding EDGE workshop.

John Bertram, formerly Queensland Government.