Beef Cattle Breeding Programs

Beef Cattle Breeding Programs Mean Dollars and Personal Satisfaction.

Beef breeding is a challenging component of the overall beef business. Successful breeding programs will add to the profitability of the beef enterprise and well planned programs can also be very rewarding to those developing and implementing them. On the other hand, the lack of an effective program or plan can be catastrophic in terms of the “bottom line” performance of an enterprise. In addition, problems that will have a higher incidence in lesser planned operations do have a serious impact on the “well being” of the operator. For example, significant losses of life brought about by calving difficulties in heifers.

Developing a Breeding Plan/Program – What does it involve for the individual Beef Enterprise Operator?

The plan/program will need to be Holistic and include consideration of the value determining traits of the turn-off animal. There is little or no point in simply concentrating on one or perhaps two of these value determining traits in developing the plan. It is hoped that this set of articles will illustrate how these value determining traits are linked and ultimately dependent on each other. From the outset it needs to be understood that the ‘Plan’ should be a guide outlining a long term direction with built in continuity. Frequent changes will result in little or no progress which will undermine profitability. Don’t be ‘fad’ driven. The key to developing a successful plan/strategy is to cater for continuity with respect trait selection yet have the flexibility with management to respond to market signals.

Step 1.

Beef enterprise operators will no doubt be aware of the many market segments/categories that exist today and will have made their choice as to which category they will target. Their decision will no doubt have included such things as:-

  • i) Personal preference; they may wish to be recognized as a grass finisher, they may like the idea of supplying the local butcher, they might not like feedlots, they may see the benefit in turning off 440kg feeder steers prior to the onset of the second winter.
  • ii) The physical property attributes; Winters maybe difficult and therefore it may not be feasible to carry cattle through the second winter. Will the country finish cattle or is it growing country? How do seasons and therefore pasture response impact on joining times etc..
  • iii) Existing beef breed/breed preference; The operator may have bought a property “walk in walk out” and so already have a set of cows well suited to a particular market. Like wise the operator may have ‘inherited’ a set of cows that are suited to producing offspring for a specific market. The operator may have a preference for a particular breed or cross, the progeny of which are market specific. Remember it is a very expensive exercise particularly on todays market to ‘change breeds’, unless of course the decision is taken to cross bred. Cross breeding does have many benefits. However, a thorough plan is required particularly with respect breeding replacement females.

The market categories most applicable to the New England and North West Slopes and Plains include:

  • Weaner steer and heifer
  • Domestic feeder steer/heifer
  • Domestic butcher trade steer/heifer
  • Short fed feeder steer/heifer
  • Long fed feeder steer
  • E.U. steer/heifer
  • Grass fed bullocks
  • Cull breeding female/bull
  • Replacement breeders PTIC heifers, cows plus cows and calves.

It is important to closely understand the specifications of the market category/s selected because the specification will influence traits such as growth rate (relationship to carcase weight at a specific age), fatness and muscling (relationship to saleable beef yield) marbling content, maturity pattern and so on.

Step 2. Identifying the Value Determining Traits.

Given the fact that the decision has been made as to which market category to target and that the environmental and personal considerations are understood, the next step is to consider the Value Determining traits. That is, those things that will influence the profitability of the operation. Those include:-

  • Fertility
  • Calving ease
  • Milking ability
  • Temperament
  • Structural Soundness – longevity
  • Doing ability
  • Growth rate – maturity pattern
  • Muscling
  • Fatness
  • Eating Quality – Marbling, Tenderness

In the next issue of the Newsletter I will discuss the two very important maternal traits fertility and calving ease and indicate how they need to be considered in the context of the complete breeding program. The two quotes to leave you with;-


“Fertility is the Governor of Growth” – Jim Bradford, Guthrie Centre USA

“Dead calves have distressingly poor growth rates” – Dr Rex Butterfield


Good luck with your cattle breeding endeavours.

Greg Chappell

Posted in : Chap's Chatter