For Andrew MacDougall, who operates the 1200ha “Green Hills” in Adelong, in partnership with wife Eve, the benefits of maternal hybrid vigour are demonstrated in his third-cross calves.
They are 22kg heavier than their purebred counterparts at weaning.
“Our cross-bred steers are well accepted by JBS Riverina feedlot’s because they are displaying plenty of growth for their age,” Mr MacDougall said.
“We are not concerned about premiums for straight black cattle as they are well and truly forgotten as the extra weight overshadows them.
“With our triple cross – Shorthorn, Angus, Hereford – calves we are ahead on weight over the price premium.
“In a well-planned crossbreeding program, straight Angus steers can be selling at a big discount compared to our crossbreds.”
Mr MacDougall noted he calves 620 cross-bred commercial cows along with 80 Poll Hereford and Poll Shorthorn stud cows, with the steer portion grown out to feedlot entry weights at 15 months.
“We place a lot of emphasis on Breedplan, focusing on calving ease, birth weight and carcase,” he said.
“Cattle with poor temperament or bad structure are not tolerated, as it is most important in a cross-breeding program to maximise the genetic potential.”
When the maternal hybrid vigour effects from retained cross-bred females are taken into account, the opportunity for increased profits driven by a well-designed breeding system is clear.
“As feed increases so does hybrid vigour,” Mr MacDougall said.
He joins black baldy cows to Shorthorns, black and red cows to Poll Herefords and red baldy and strawberry roan cows to Angus bulls.
“This works well as cows are never joined back to a bull as the same breed as her sire,” he said.
“Our mature cow weights have not increased as some data suggests would happen as we select on Breedplan to control the trait.”
Further, due to the higher percentage of his cross-bred heifers reaching the desired joining weight, Mr MacDougall is able to apply an even more strict culling rate.
“It gives us more flexibility to remove females with less desirable traits from the herd,” he said.
“We want to produce as much beef as possible off the property and to have a herd of cows we are proud of.
“This cross-breeding program is the most suitable to reach our goals.”
Vigour in informed breeding program
“We try to keep it as simple as possible,” Andrew MacDougall said as he explained his triple-cross breeding program on “Green Hills”, Adelong.
“Originally we used a Hereford Shorthorn cross and were consistently gaining eight percent in the calves compared to the purebreds,” he said.
When a draft of black baldy cows were purchased and joined to Shorthorn bulls, their progeny gained from the increased hybrid vigour and gained 18 percent in weight over the purebreds.
“With that success, we introduced Angus into the system to breed a triple cross animal,” Mr MacDougall said. “All three breeds have equal importance in our program.”
Hybrid vigour is also important for Mr MacDougall in lifting the fertility of his breeders.
“Not only do we get three percent higher preg-tested in the cross-breds than our purebreds,” he said.
“They conceive earlier in the joining period resulting in calves on the ground earlier.”