Genetics & Environment

cattle sunset

It is no surprise that your genetic decisions are the foundation for your beef herd. The direction for your herd in the years to come will happen with your breeding decision this year. There are outstanding nutritional products available to producers today, but these products only work to express the genetic potential predetermined in an animal at conception. If the right traits are not installed, whether they are for carcass merit, growth or disposition, etc., there is not a nutritional program that will fix it.

The genetic portion of The Total Cattle Solutions Program offers a strong pillar of foundation for the beef producer who is striving to increase efficiency and profit through genomic decision-making. Even though artificial insemination is not required to participate in The Total Cattle Solutions Program, many producers are aware of its value by the improvements made in the calf crop and using synchronization protocols to increase pounds of calf for a specific marketing time. In addition to these established improvements, our program utilizes artificial insemination in order to standardize a variable (a proven sire) in your cowherd to track the higher performing dams. In essence, while building genetically-improved, heavier weight cattle, we develop another herd management tool to improve the selection criteria of your cattle. By working closely with genetic providers, we can offer you service in building the foundation in your program that you desire. We will help you establish criteria for utilizing data-proven bulls with highly accurate EPD’s that will help you reach the goals and reputation you desire for your operation. In summary, using the genetic portion of The Solutions Program, you will see improvements in your herd base within a shorter period of time than any other options. However, even before sire selection is considered, a few basic questions should be asked of your operation.

First Discussion Question:

Do your cows fit your operating environment?


The idea seems obvious, but there are many examples where it hasn’t worked. Producers may have a bull that produces an exceptional cross for terminal calves, but they may keep replacements out of the same crop that are not practical females. On another note someone may have a cow that is overly productive for the environment that is available. An example of a good genetic mix for a middle Tennessee producer may be a cow that is ½ Angus, ¼ Hereford, and ¼ Simmental where a high percentage of traditional continental genetics would not be practical for the environment. If you were in South Georgia, the ideal cow might be ½ Brangus, ½ Hereford. These are just examples and not meant to disparage any breed. There are many combinations that work well. Study the traits of economic significance for your area and make decisions based on those facts

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. The genetic goal of the beef herd should be to have a herd of cows that will thrive in their given environment without large amounts of supplemental feed.

Right behind the fertility of a herd affecting profit, there is feed cost. Producers should desire cattle that are good foragers and operate in such a way to utilize them. A pound of feed given to a calf should generate a product that can be sold. A pound of feed given to a cow to maintain condition will provide little return to the operation. If we must supplement, then it should be to the calves and we should develop our cow base to fit the resources at hand.

Second Question:

What kind of calves do you want to produce?

If you are trying to produce feedlot cattle that hit 85% choice with 90% yield grade 2’s & 3’s, then you need to buy a bull whose calves will fit that market. There are many different grids available. There are many different targets for your cattle. Every producer does not need the exact same kind of cattle. Cattle producers are independent thinkers and we do not want to take that away from you. We want to help you achieve the goals of your operation.

As another example, if you are direct marketing to a feedlot and we discover you have exceptional Quality grade established in the herd, but you need more growth and rib eye, we may see it advantageous to utilize a Charolais bull. These calves would all be terminal cross calves, which means all of them would/ should go to the feedlot. The females would probably not be desirable to retain for breeding. If, on the other hand, you were producing replacement females for yourself and selling replacement females to other producers, your goal would be entirely different. Maybe a bull that is ½ Simmental and ½ Angus would be the ideal for you so the resulting calf would still be just under 50% Continental genetics and just a bit over 50% British genetics. These are just ideas, and the choices are endless.

Third Question:

Do you believe in hybrid vigor?


The initial research that showed heterosis was beneficial was done in the 1930’s. More than seventy years ago we knew crossbreeding was the right thing to do and today we are tracking away from that knowledge. It is disheartening to see that many producers are using the same breed of bull year after year. This does not mean you should choose random pattern breeding, but that you should utilize a disciplined approach. The value of heterosis should not be overlooked. Examine the information below and you will see how important heterosis is to your herd.

Advantages of Crossbred Cows

Crossbreed chart

The average percentages can be broken down as follows:

    • 2-6% increase in calf survivability

    • 4% increase in feedlot growth

    • 16-38% increase in longevity of cows

    • 6% increase in weaning rate

    • 9-23% increase in # calf weaned/cow exposed*

    • 6-9% increase in weaning weight of calves*

    • 25% increase in lifetime productivity of cows


In summary, the “big picture” is that British breeds tend to be smaller, easier fleshing (because of this generally more fertile), and have less muscle and more marbling. Continental breeds tend to be larger, harder fleshing, leaner and more muscular. It is possible to combine the positives from both and this is why crossbreeding is so effective.  

For more information on crossbreeding, click here.