The selection of breeding cattle is partly based on visual characteristics like soundness, volume/capacity, muscling, and balance. Along with visual selection, producers often use performance values, frame score, and expected progeny differences (EPDs) to evaluate and select breeding animals.
The selection of breeding cattle can have a lasting effect on a producer’s cow herd. If the producer keeps the female offspring from a bull or cow, they will pass on its genetic material to other animals in the herd.
Soundness - Both skeletal and reproductive soundness are important in the selection of breeding cattle. Skeletal soundness refers to the animal’s ease of movement. Beef cattle should take long strides off both ends of their skeleton and fill their track (the rear foot landing in the track left by the front foot) when moving. The animal should set its feet down square and wide. Reproductive soundness is extremely important in both males and females. Bulls need to have at least 32 centimetres of scrotal development at one year of age. Females need to show signs of development of the vulva and udder by breeding age.
Volume/capacity - Both males and females should be evaluated for body capacity. An animal should be deep sided (possessing vertical depth) and wide ribbed and have spring or curvature to the outside of its rib cage. Capacity determines how much forage and grains an animal can consume. The more it eats, the higher its production should be.
Muscling - Breeding animals should be heavily muscled to produce feeder and slaughter animals that are heavily muscled.
Balance - Balance refers to the skeletal and muscular formation of the animal. These factors contribute to the beauty of its phenotype, or physical appearance. Beef cattle should be long bodied, level topped, uniform in-depth, stout boned, and clean fronted (free of excess skin).
Attractiveness is more important to purebred producers who show cattle for promotional purposes.
Visual Selection Guide to Breeding Cattle
1. Skeletally and reproductively sound
2. Adequate body capacity
3. Heavily muscled
In addition to looking at these characteristics, producers may look at other measures to evaluate an animal for breeding. For example, performance data consists of information about how a particular animal has performed in the past. It includes actual weights, such as birth weight, weaning weight, and yearling weight. Feed to gain ratios are another important measure used in selection.
Frame score is a measure of height in relation to the age of the animal. The frame score can be used to estimate the size of the animal at maturity. Frame scores range from one to ten, with five to seven considered ideal. Bulls are generally larger than females at the same frame score.
The current trend in breeding animal selection is to use genetic estimates, or EPDs, as an aid for selection.
EPDs make a prediction about the performance of the future offspring of a parent. They look at the difference in production between the offspring of a particular animal and those of an average animal. All EPDs assume that the parent has been mated to animals of equal genetic value. Negative numbers indicate lighter calves, while positive values identify heavier calves.
The basic EPDs a producer should be aware of are birth weight EPDs, weaning weight EPDs, yearling weight EPDs, and milk EPDs. Birth weight (BW) EPDs are a prediction in pounds of the difference in birth weights. Weaning weight (WW) EPDs are a prediction of the difference in pounds in weaning weight. Yearling weight (YW) EPDs are the difference in pounds at one year of age. A milk(M) EPD shows the difference in pounds in the weaning weights of the calves produced by the parent’s female offspring due to the milk production of the cow.
Look at the sample EPDs in the box below. Evaluating the EPDs of the two bulls shows that if Bull #1 and Bull#2 are mated to genetically equal cows, calves from Bull#1 should be three pounds heavier at birth (2-(-1) = 3),fifteen pounds heavier at weaning (20-5 = 15), and twenty pounds heavier at one year of age (30-10 = 20). The calves from cows from Bull #1 should be five pounds heavier at weaning than those from Bull #2 because of the cows’ milk.
BW EPD WW EPD YW EPD M EPD
Bull #1 +2 +20 +30 +5
Bull #2 -1 +5 +10 0
Crossbred and Purebred Breeding Systems Crossbreeding is mating animals of different breeds.
Commercial beef producers use crossbreeding to take advantage of the characteristics of different breeds. For example, a producer may want to cross an Angus, with its high carcass value, and a Charolais, since this breed has good growth and muscling.
The offspring produced by crossbreeding display heterosis, or hybrid vigor. Heterosis results in improved performance, growth, and/or carcass traits. It is evident when the animal displays superior qualities in comparison to the average of its parents ‘traits. Producers using crossbreeding need to select bulls to use in their herds as well as replacement females.
Most commercial producers buy purebred bulls and sell feeder calves or retain ownership through the feedlot. Daughters of bulls are usually kept as replacements. Purebred breeders must select registered bulls and females of the same breed to purchase and use as replacements. They produce bulls and females used by other purebred breeders and commercial producers.