The Importance of Genetics for Beef enterprises

by Simon Gee on 26 October 2018.

Genetics and selection decisions are a major driver of the beef enterprise. There are two key criteria: the genetic value of the bull (or heifer, breeder) for economically important traits; and the ability of that animal to be able to reproductively ‘deliver the genetics’ for the length of time it is used in a herd. Management then plays a significant role in calf output and producing suitable progeny for market.

The overall goal of the beef operation should be to increase net income. Net income is a balance between how much is spent on the operation and how much income the operation generates. Therefore, beef producers need to focus on increasing income while minimising additional cost or reduce cost while trying to maintain income.

Although this practice applies to the entire beef operation, a key part would be in selecting a bull that helps achieve this goal.

Two practices are available to improve the genetics of commercial beef operations: crossbreeding and individual bull selection.


Although the benefits of crossbreeding have been known for many years, it is now standard practise for the commercial industry. To increase profitability, crossbreeding must be used in a systematic plan, since many of the production benefits will result only from an organised approach. Before designing an effective crossbreeding plan, the producer must have some understanding of how crossbreeding increases production. Crossbred animals have two advantages over straight breeds: Crossbreds are more vigorous and have higher production traits than purebred cattle. This increase in production, coupled with greater calf vigour and survival, results in increased calf crops and weaning weights. Crossbreeding can take advantage of breed complementarity, since a weakness of one breed can be offset by combining it with a breed strong in that trait. The resulting crossbred may not be superior in any single trait but superior in overall performance.

Individual bull selection

Bulls are selected for their genetic potential. It is difficult to determine genetic values of bulls since the outward appearance are a result of both genetic potential and the conditions under which the animal was developed, environment, nutrition, climate, diseases, parasites and insects plus weather conditions influence the outward appearance of the bull. Where possible the animal should be compared with other animals within the same herd and should be raised under conditions similar to those which he is expected to perform. However, the genetic value of bulls can be determined and compared with bulls throughout the country because of the sire record systems of the purebred.

The genetic value of a bull can be estimated by his own performance. In addition, the physical attributes he expresses visually will aid in selection. Genetic values are often available that take into account the performance of his sire, dam, grandsire, granddam, herd mates and brothers and sisters.

For bull selection, a breeder should establish goals for his own herd, evaluate strengths and weaknesses and select bulls which will improve the production and genetic merit. Selection has to include a realistic appraisal of the resources available to support the cow and growth of calves.


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