A breeding program is a complete system of management designed to bring about genetic improvement. Genetic improvement can be accomplished by the use of both crossbreeding and selection. The purpose of crossbreeding is to produce heterosis or hybrid vigor. Selection of superior breeding stock is effective only if traits are heritable. A trait is heritable if a portion of a parent's superiority in the trait is passed on to its offspring.
The most important measure of production for a commercial cattle operation is pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed. Good reproduction is extremely important. In general, reproductive traits such as percent calf crop and calf livability have a low heritability. Reproductive traits show little response to selection, but they can be improved by crossbreeding.
Production traits, such as weaning weight and average daily gain, are also important. These traits can be improved by selecting superior breeding stock. Production traits also show a moderate response to crossbreeding.
While carcass traits are important, they have less economic value for commercial cattle operations than reproduction or growth rate. Carcass traits can be changed rapidly by selection. Crossbreeding has little effect on carcass merit.
Crossbreeding works to improve reproduction and production traits. Selection works to improve production and carcass traits. A good total breeding program for a commercial herd will involve both planned crossbreeding and selection of superior breeding animals.
About 75 percent of the cattle operations in Georgia have fewer that 50 head. The average producer maintains about 25 cows. Most of these small operations have only one bull and one breeding pasture available each year. The structured breeding programs that work well in large herds will not work under these conditions. However, there are effective, practical approaches that may be used for the small herd.
You may think that the only way a small producer can get the full benefit from crossbreeding and selection is to buy a new bull every year. That is not true. Stop by the Extension Office at 116 Main Street for a bulletin we have on "Breeding Programs for Small Beef Herds."