Crossing Beefmasters with EU Dairy Cows? Expediting European Beefmaster Breed Growth using Native Cow Herds

Editor’s Note: This post is by my friend and Beefmaster partner Doyle Sanders. He has been working to introduce Beefmasters into Europe, beginning with Italy and Poland. The dairy concept has application to many regions of the world into which Beefmasters are expanding.
By M. Doyle Sanders, DBL D BAR Ranch Beefmasters-Industry/New Ulm, TX
Planning for initial embryo transfer operations in Italy and Poland intended use of cattle within their existing operations. The Italian herd was built from a historic old breed of Marremano cattle that has been in the region for over 2,000 years crossed with continental breeds such as Angus, Simmental, Hereford, and Charolais. The Polish herd was built from crossing Holstein dairy cows with Limousin bulls imported from Germany and upgraded with further Limousin genetics. This limited the number of “recips” available at both operations due to existing production demands at each ranch.
Both of these breeders had been using natural breeding for their breeding practices and each ranch had their own breeding and calving seasons. There became an obvious need for ET technical expertise to perform the preparation and implant work to assure success with the limited number of special embryos.
Dairy ET work is a common practice in both countries with high pregnancy rates from the very docile dairy cows. Both breeders recognized the need for robust facilities to work some very anxious and tense or aggressive cows. Initial ET results were deemed to be unsatisfactory at both locations. When more experienced ET techs became available from the dairy side, techniques were identified with hormonal preparation, working the cows more regularly with better chutes and handling facilities, improvements were made to dramatically improve further pregnancy rates. This extended the program timeline for Beefmaster herd development in each country.
To expand the number of recips available for the Beefmaster embryos, the ET technicians recommended using Holstein dairy cattle to take advantage of their docile, proven pregnancy success for the breeders in both Italy and Poland. Special arrangements were made to test these Beefmaster embryo implants with Holstein cows at different locations. Pregnancy rates have proven to be much more successful than using the in-herd more anxious and tense cattle. Docility is a trait that impacts fertility and reproduction using AI or ET methods of breeding.
The UK breeder in N. Ireland who obtained his Beefmaster embryos in 2016 is a dairy operator working with Holstein dairy cows. He began preparing for post calving ET work to use his dairy cows as recips then let his cows continue in milk production while carrying the Beemaster embryos to calving. He will also be using replacement heifers for ET to compare calving experience. His intent is to convert his dairy operation into a Beefmaster seed stock herd to enable him to market live heifers and bulls starting with a semen sales program across the UK. He foresees advancing Beefmasters to cross with Scottish and English Angus and Hereford to optimize benefits from the cross breeding heterosis. His first market is to use the Beefmaster semen with his dairy neighbors for stockers to feedlots.
As the Beefmaster potential for benefiting beef quality and efficiency has become better known within various European regions, several dairy operations, feedlots, and meat markets have expressed interest in supporting the growth of Beefmasters in Europe. The Italians are already using leaner low marbling Limousin bulls to create beef calves on dairy replacements. Several dairies in Italy are following the dairy to beef conversion model to substantially increase profits from milk sales to beef sales. Comparison of Beefmasters to Limousin carcass benefits have dramatically increased interest in this new breed option. The feed efficiency and nutritional gains expected from Beefmasters have also impressed the feedlots and meat markets.
Poland’s national “ProOptiBeef” initiative to improve beef quality and efficiency has focused several advantages and opportunities available from Beefmasters for their national beef herd objectives. To advance their large beef export market strategy, they need to upgrade their products that have been based primarily upon retired dairy cattle. The national herd used for their beef supply source is 90% Holstein with older cows and younger non-replacement female and bull calves destined for harvest. Poland currently consumes little beef but exports large volumes of beef meat to several world markets. Beef is critical to their international trade programs and they know they must upgrade quality to maintain their market share.
In January, 2016, DBL D BAR Ranch hosted a group from Poland, including Polish “ProOptiBeef” officials, beef marketers, and breeders. (This group was partially sponsored with BBU International Committee USLGE funds.) Visits were made to ranches, feedlots, genetic centers, and sales sites. Full day workshops were conducted at Texas A&M University Meat and Animal Science Departments focused on considerations for Poland beef improvement.
Dr. Stephen B. Smith presented a detailed discussion on nutritional aspects of various breeds and how they compared for improving oleic acid production in beef for healthy diets. The highly marbled Wagyu beef was used as the basis for comparison with Angus, Hereford, Charolais and Brahman beef. When asked to compare how Beefmasters would cross with the national Holstein herd, he was very impressed with the potential for high heterosis affects from the Beefmasters along with the high fat from the Holstein to create heavier healthy muscle. He projected that the oleic acid production to improve beef diets from this cross would approach the high quality from Wagyu. He pointed out expected higher carcass yields with much lower feed input and quicker development from feed to harvest would be available from this cross.
Texas A&M agreed to a letter of intent to support SGGW University in Warsaw to conduct further studies to measure the benefits of Beefmasters crossing with Holstein Friesian cattle following earlier 2013-2015 research by the University to compare continental breeds in a 10 million Euro research program. University of Bologna in Italy may join the project.
In discussions with one Italian genetic marketing and distribution firm, they forecast a market demand of at least 20,000 straws per year just for Czech Republic dairies. Cheese dairy producers in Italy have expressed interest in at least 10,000 straws for one specific region in the Italian Alps. The market demand is there. Growing the Beefmaster breed in Europe can capitalize on using these dairy applications to jump start the demand and use for cross breeding.

Beefmasters in Russia

Matheson snow

(Editor’s note: the following is an email we received from a Russian cattle producer we tried to sell Beefmasters, and my subsequent response. I thought I’d share since it answers a lot of the common objections about Beefmasters in colder climates.)

Email from Russia:

Below you can find owner’s opinion about your question.

“Not for cattle production in Bryansk or the neighboring regions.

They are a composite breed of Brahman, Hereford & Shorthorn.  They can be well suited for warm climates of the southern US.  They usually have about 3/8 Brahman influence, similar to the Brangus and Santa Gertrudis.  If they are good cattle, they can gain well in the feedlot but their marbling will be low.  “

And my response:

Thanks for your response. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a couple things about Beefmasters that may surprise to you.

Beefmasters are typically thought of as warm-weather cattle, but they actually do very well in all but the extreme northern climates. My grandfather, Tom Lasater, founded the Beefmaster breed. He moved the Foundation Herd to the state of Colorado in the 1940’s, where they have been since.  I have attached the average temperatures for both Matheson and Bryansk (Bryansk Temps, Matheson Temps )and you will see they are amazingly similar. In the winter, eastern Colorado is characterizing by cold temps, frequent snow and lots of wind.

We also have many Beefmaster breeders in other colder U.S. states like Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Wisconsin. Another critical point is that I assume you would be initially A.I’ing to adapted “cold weather” cows like Angus or Kalmyk. The 50% hybrids from this mating and raised in your climate would have no trouble at all.

As for the breed composition, they were actually originally created from 50% Bos Indicus (Ghir and Guzerate from India, Nelore from Brazil) and 50% Bos Taurus (25% Hereford, 25% milking shorthorn). One important distinction is that the Bos Indicus influence comes from three different breeds, not from the modern American Brahman. In fact, the Brahman was developed from many of the same strains at roughly the same time.

The most important difference is selection. My grandfather closed his herd to any outside genetics in 1937. It is thought to be the oldest closed herd in the world today. Nearly 80 years of continuous selection by a clearly defined philosophy has resulted in a homozygous Beef breed. It retains traits from each of the parent breeds, but through selection is a unique and wondrous animal unto itself.

The main difference between Beefmasters and the other breeds you mentioned is they are a 5/8 x 3/8 hybrid. This means they can be continually recreated from the parent breeds, which are also continually evolving, which means much less consistency. There is also a good deal more heterosis in prepotency form a 3-way composite than and 2-breed hybrid.

Now to your final point: marbling. Beefmasters are not thought of as heavy marbling cattle. If that were the only target, we would just use Angus. But in the U.S., we find our profit in a myriad of factors, many of them more important than Marbling alone.

Beefmasters gain acceptably well, especially when crossed on a fattier breed such as Angus, which is a very typical cross for our customers. In my brochure, you will find some of the numbers relating to feeding and carcass performance of our genetics.

The thing Beefmaster bring to the cattle feeding segment is rapid again, efficient conversion, long-feed efficiency without getting too fat, and a low incidence of sicks and death loss. Hanging on the rail, they provide acceptable grade (marbling) with higher yields (more beef, less fat), and a low incidence of cull carcasses. In the U.S. our industry is struggling with the huge overproduction of wasted fat due to the heavy Angus influence. We are striving to raise is genetics that will produce lean, yet tender and consistent Beef.

The real prize though is on the ranch, and this is why commercial operators throughout the world use Beefmaster genetics. You will find Beefmaster females will be much more efficient females for low-cost production. They are thriftier, hardier and wonderful mothers. While many in the industry take a discount for terminal-cross females, our customers place a much higher value on the replacement females than the feeder steers. The former is a factory, the latter a commodity.

That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about Beefmasters, but I appreciate your reading it!

 

Lorenzo Lasater, President.  lorenzo@isabeefmasters.com. 325.942.8581

 

NCBA Convention #Beefmeet

beef

I recently attended the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA, http://www.beefusa.org/) annual convention in San Diego California.

The NCBA convention and trade show is always a whirlwind of meetings, a massive trade show, visits with customers and a rocking good time.

Isa Beefmasters (http://www.isabeefmasters.com/) shared booth space in the trade show with Beefmaster Breeder United (www.beefmasters.org), The Texoma Bull Sale (http://texomabeefmasters.com/) and Vaughan Family Farms (http://www.vaughnfamilyfarms.com/). The trade show was a little slower than previous years, but Beefmasters made a good showing. The BBU Board even met here which was very cool!

I serve on the NCBA Marketing and International Trade Committee. We are dealing with a lot of issues relating to market volatility and price discovery. The CME (http://www.cmegroup.com/) gave an enlightening presentation on how electronic trading and high frequency trading (HFT) are affecting the markets. They also gave a lot of detail on their security procedures to prevent “spoofing” and other nefarious practices.

One of the highlights for me is always the Cattlefax Outlook (http://www.cattlefax.com) . This incredibly detail forecast of world commodity and (much more importantly BEEF markets!!) is always informative. My main takeaway was that feeder cattle should average $165 for 2016, which is a number I think Isa Beefmasters and our customers can live with!

There was an awesome evening event where NCBA rented out the U.S. Midles midwayway (http://www.midway.org/) for a dinner and show. This massive aircraft carrier was built entirely by women at the end of WWII. I wonderful museum of old aircraft and the ship itself is a gem. If you are ever in San Diego, don’t miss it. I was fortunate to have Leslie go with me to this one. This photo shows her helping launch planes of the Midway.

My absolute favorite though, was a talk by Robert O’Neill (http://www.robertjoneill.com/), the Navy Seal who killed Osama Bin Laden. He gave an extraordinary presentation on the Navy Seals, his battle experiences. It was a moving testimony to how awesome our armed forces are. Please visit his website and donate to his non-profit “Your Grateful Nation” (http://yourgratefulnation.org) which helps veterans. He makes me very proud to be an American.

san diegoWe also went out to Coronado Island (where the Seals train) and had dinner. This is the spectacular view looking back to
San Diego.
#Beefmeet will be in Nashville next year, which is always a blast. Watch for the Isa Beefmaster booth there.

Sustainability: Truths that stand, myths that fail

Isa Beefmasters heifers

Sustainability is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. It is defined as “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and hereby supporting long-term ecological balance.” This definition seems like an awfully good description of what cow-calf producers do every day. Sadly though, there are those who accuse our industry of being unsustainable. This claim has less to do with reality than the hidden agenda of groups who wish to end production agriculture. But perception can become reality in the minds of an uninformed public, so ranchers have a duty to stand up for themselves and share the wonderful story of grass-based ranching.

At Isa Beefmasters, cows spend virtually their entire lives on native pasture. We occasionally supplement nutrition during times of stress, but Mother Nature provides the vast majority of their diet. A cow is a fabulous creature, harvesting energy from the sun, in the form of plants that are not usable directly by humans, to produce tasty, nutrient dense BEEF. And the plants they are harvesting are native perennials which, under good management, will produce year after year using only the rain and sunshine that God gives them. Now if that’s not sustainable, I don’t know what is!

In the larger Beef Chain, grain obviously plays an important role. The majority of beef consumed in this country is grain-fed in the final stages Sustainabilityof production. But a typical beef animal is two years old or less at harvest and often spends as much as three-quarters of its life on pasture or in fields. One of the real ironies of grain use in agriculture is that it began due to the overproduction of grain caused by the Farm Program, paying farmers to grow crops America didn’t need for human consumption. Faced with tremendous oversupply, ranchers began feeding it to livestock rather than burning it.

Animal welfare is another common catchphrase in the modern lexicon. Any rancher knows we spend each day focused on our livestock’s welfare. If cattle are mistreated, sick, undernourished or deprived of water, they cannot be profitable. Healthy, happy cattle will gain weight, reproduce and raise quality calves. Ranchers love their livestock, much as a city person would a dog, but this relationship generally is not conveyed properly to consumers.

Antibiotics and growth implants are another area of concern to our customers, but often more because of lack of understanding or downright misrepresentation by those who wish to harm our industry. At Isa Beefmasters, cattle are given standard immunizations for disease, just as we immunize children against measles and tetanus. The use of these vaccines has worked miracles in lowering death loss in calves, which is an important step towards sustainability.

We use simple antibiotics occasionally to doctor a sick animal, much like giving children antibiotics when they have strep throat. Being able to treat sick animals successfully, and prevent illness from spreading, is a critical part of ensuring their welfare. Isa Beefmasters never feeds antibiotics or mass treats animals. This practice is simply not necessary in a pasture environment—would be cost-prohibitive anyway.

In addition, we never use growth implants (hormones) in our operation. Because we carry our seedstock through to breeding production, any short-term advantage in weight gain is negated over the course of time. My own personal opinion is that the Beef Industry should voluntarily and collectively stop using growth implants. This is not because they are bad for consumers—in fact science has repeatedly proven that they are not. But the buying public doesn’t like the idea, and no amount of science is going to change that opinion. The Beef Industry has more important battles to fight. If we give up their use collectively, no one loses the advantage.

No discussion about sustainability would be complete without a word about ethanol. This biofuel was foisted on the American public under the guise of sustainability. It sounds good right? Burn “renewable resources“ instead of fossil fuels. But like many ideas born of good intentions, the program came with a whole host of unintended consequences. To begin with, some studies estimate that it costs one gallon of diesel to produce one gallon of ethanol—so it’s just a feel-good pass-through with no real benefit. Ethanol also completely upended the market prices for livestock grains, which in the end, raises the price for the Beef you love. The high price of corn caused by ethanol also raises land rents, and its higher production massively increases the use of chemical fertilizers and water from aquifers needed for irrigation. In a real twist of irony, ethanol also greatly reduces biodiversity, as huge amounts of croplands are converted to corn production. The point here is that sustainability is not always what some folks would have us believe.

As a fifth-generation rancher (working to raise the sixth), I take offense when people point fingers at the ranching industry. As I’ve outlined above, Beef cattle in America are raised in a very sustainable way. Those who claim otherwise either haven’t taken the time to learn about what we do or have a different agenda, such as ending production agriculture or promoting a vegetarian lifestyle. The point they overlook, though, is that people have to eat. Cattle are “farming the corners”—taking energy from the sun in the form of plants and converting it to nutrient-dense, protein-rich and super-tasty Beef. And this is being carried out on millions of acres of land not useful for other types of agriculture, especially farming. That is pretty darn sustainable, and I am proud to be a part of it.

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