Genetics and Feed Conversion

I’ve watched, observed and analyzed cattle confirmation, genetics and growth rates most of my life. There seems to always be certain individuals within any species or group that excel in converting the intake of food & fiber into body mass and ultimately meat. And additionally, some also have the ability to maintain this mass on less intake of food. Breeding for these traits has been a lifelong challenge for most cattlemen.

I turn the big 60 this year. That is LX in roman numerals and for some reason it seems to have more romance than sixty or 60. So, I am going to say that I am going to be LX this year. I don’t remember being born but my momma tells me I was over an 8 pounder. I’ve always had a “stout” build. I’m durable and I’ve had the ability to convert my feed very well. And, I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime.

"Ernie." Grand Champion Steer, Denver, 1948. Extremely small. Note where his top line hits the showman's beltline. He weighed 895 lbs. Photo courtesy of MSU

In high school football, I was a pulling offensive guard and an inside linebacker. In both of those positions, a “low to the ground”, stout and stocky build are an asset. (Along with running a 4.5, 40 yard dash, which I was very shy of…)

Maybe football athletes and cattle genetics have a lot in common. Both have seen a big swing in desired “confirmation & type”. Has stoutness, durability and toughness been replaced with sheer speed?

This 1988 Denver champion steer had a hip height of 54.5 inches, weighed 1272 lbs

Regardless, the beef industry has made a big swing in “desired type” during the past XL years. Has it had its ups and downs based on consumer demand or commodity manipulation? Is short and stocky coming back into style over tall, dark and handsome?

There are definitely “choices” to be made in both football players and cattle genetics. And I feel very strongly that the position that they play is of utmost importance. One wouldn’t put a nose guard in the game as a corner back or a wide receiver in as a middle linebacker. Thus, it is also very smart to use a cattle type that is appropriate for the target market you are raising beef for in the first place.

The small female weighed 835 lbs and was extremely fat. The large male weighed 1900 lbs and was very A similar comparison can be drawn between these two black cattle that went to slaughter the same day at IBP in Iowalean. They perhaps represent the genetic variation that exists across our cattle today.

If you are going to sell to the sale barn buyers or feed yards, then that will probably be telling you to raise the tall, dark and handsome varieties – and plan on spending some big money to maintain them at that status.

On the other hand, if you plan to pasture raise and grass feed for a specialized or direct market, you will want a type that is made for it; a type that is durable and will convert forage into beef with-out much in the line of input costs.

Here is a site that tracks beef genetics back a long ways:

Wilt Chamberlain and Willie Shoemaker were both “tops in their class” but neither one would have done very well in the others shoes

It’s a historical review of cattle types. I think it is very interesting to look back ever so often. As with a football athlete, it sometimes is very beneficial to be able to run backwards and/or sideways…make sure you are playing the right players in the right positions.

And, lastly here is a comparison of two top notch athletes:



About Gary Duncan

Gary has been active in the fence business for over 15 years. He also raises Highland cattle in a management intensive grazing system and was the first person to market the PasturePro post back in 2005. He enjoys discussing all things grazing and is the main contributor to the blog.
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