The Value of Heterosis

 Animal Search | AJSA | IGS | Fall Focus  |  ASF | Site Search

The Value of Heterosis

by Lane Giess, director of Commercial & Nontraditional Data Programs

The adage “Our breed can do it all” has — and may continue to be — pressed by some breed association representatives and certainly some seedstock producers. This concept alone is false and in some small way can be ttributed to holding back the beef industry and more importantly the commercial cattle producers. Not a single breed by itself can capture heterosis.

The economic stability of commercial producers is of great importance, and continuing to push singular breed usage is a detriment to farm and ranch longevity at all levels. The value of heterosis is a reduction of production costs, an increase in animal performance and efficiency, an increase in the value of the products sold, and often simpler breeding programs.

So what is heterosis? Heterosis, also known as hybrid vigor, is the superiority of a crossbred animal relative to the average performance of its straightbred parents.  Research has shown time and time again that crossbreeding results in calves that are far superior to their straightbred counterparts.

There are two reasons for the resulting boost in performance from crossbreeding: 1) Increasing the level of heterozygosity across the genome lessens the effect of gene dominance for diminished performance (i.e., hybrid vigor), and 2) an increased use of breed complementarity of parent breeds (i.e., maternal line and terminal line). In the beef industry, the effect of direct heterosis on calf performance has been documented. An example of this is if you mate a straightbred parent where the average weaning weight is 550 to another straightbred parent where the average weaning weight is 500. The average weaning performance of those calves is 546. That is 21 pounds heavier than the average of the parent performance.

It’s clear the benefit of heterosis results in improved performance across an array of economically relevant traits, but perhaps even more important is the compounded production advantage through crossbred females. The largest economic impact crossbreeding yields is through maternal heterosis and crossbred females.

Would you find it valuable to have females produce 600 pounds more weaning weight and last over a year longer on average than straightbred females? Crossbred females make more money. Period.




And maintaining crossbred females in your production system is not as difficult as some may think. There are many types of crossbreeding programs that range from two or three breed rotations to terminal crosses using
purchased F1 females. However, perhaps the most popular and simplest to use is by integrating a composite breeding program with hybrid seedstock where two, three, or four breed composites are developed.

These systems exist today and are perpetuated by the rise in composite seedstock bulls available in the market. Determining the right breeds needed for a composite program can be evaluated through admixing complimentary breeds — where the strengths of one breed are integrated to address the weakness of another breed. Table 3 provides a glimpse at some of the complimentary options for developing composite programs.

While these breed groupings provide a start to developing composites, the more useful tool at your disposal are breed agnostic Expected Progeny Differences (EPD). Being able to compare parent animals across breeds for the same economically relevant traits without adjustment factors provides commercial producers with targeted tools for hybrid development.

The EPD generated from the International Genetic Solutions (IGS) genetic evaluation incorporates data from millions of animals across numerous breed populations. The resulting EPD are directly comparable across breeds and are a targeted tool to help commercial cattle producers develop and amplify composites.

The suite of tools available from IGS benefit from many breed associations sharing their data and developing more relevant and reliable predictions. An example of one of these tools is the Feeder Profit Calculator (FPC), where anyone can use the free service to estimate the relative genetic and management value on commercial feeder calves. The tool takes into consideration vaccination protocols, weaning dates, sex, and age of the calves, but perhaps most importantly it appropriately weights the value gained from crossbreeding.

Comparing side-by-side populations of straightbred calves to crossbred calves with the same management, the FPC takes into consideration the boost in performance and can determine how much the crossbred calves should make on a $/cwt basis. The tool also recognizes that good genetics cannot overcome bad management.

Research informs us that crossbred females and crossbred calves perform better and are more valuable than their straightbred counterparts. These studies are backed by controlled efforts like the tri-county futurity, which showcased that SimAngus and Simmental-sired calves by English mothers were worth $15 to $24 more than the straightbred English calves.
The beef industry demands crossbreeding alternatives for the simple fact it makes commercial cattle producers more profitable. We are already seeing the rise in demand for hybrid bulls, but I suspect as we look into the not-sodistant future of this industry, the concept of “one breed can do it all” will be firmly relegated to the past.

For questions on crossbreeding programs and hybrid utilization, contact Lane at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. * Adapted from Beef Sire Selection Manual: Crossbreeding for Commercial Beef Production. Ritchie et al., 1999; Gregory and Cundiff, 1980.






Can't find what your looking for? Search for it here.