Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention
Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention

Can You Afford to Avoid Crossbreeding?

Heterosis and opportunities for breed complementarity are the carrots for using crossbreeding programs.

Genetic improvement is the focus of many seedstock producers today as they strive to advance their herd and meet the needs of their commercial customers.

“As an animal breeder, you have two important decisions to make,” Jennifer Bormann, Kansas State University animal scientist, told attendees at the 2022 Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention, hosted June 1-3 in Las Cruces, N.M. Bormann addressed the advantages of crossbreeding in the producer applications technical breakout.

The two important decisions for animal breeders are selection and mating, Bormann said. Selection is improving that added piece of genetic merit through improved expected progeny differences (EPDs). Secondly, a producer can develop mating systems to take that added genetic merit and optimize heterosis and breed complementarity.

“Heterosis and breed complementarity are the two benefits of crossbreeding,” she said.

“Heterosis is how much better is crossbred progeny than it should be. Progeny resulting from crossing two different breeds gain heterosis from increased heterozygosity of a crossbred animal’s genetic makeup,” explained Bormann. More heterosis is achieved from crossing of breeds with more genetic variability.

For animal breeders, heritability aids in selection. Breeders can make rapid progress with highly heritable traits; however, not all important traits are highly heritable. This is where heterosis can help. Bormann stated fertility, survivability and reproduction traits that exhibit low heritability have a high level of heterosis.

“The most economically important trait for a commercial producer is reproduction,” said Bormann.

Crossbreeding becomes a significant added value in the commercial cattle industry, she noted. By combining breeds with different strengths, known as breed complementarity, cattlemen can also benefit from crossbreeding.

Citing research from the Meat Animal Research Center (MARC), crossbred cows have one more calf, which results in an average of 600 pounds of calf weaning weight, over the course of a lifetime.

“The most significant economic impact from crossbreeding comes from having crossbred cows,” she noted. “The high level of heterosis from maternal traits improves reproductive performance and longevity. Advantages to the crossbred calf come with a slightly higher birth weight balanced with a more substantial increase in weaning and yearling weight.

Crossbreeding systems require focus and planning as systems can become complex. Adding a new breed into the rotation each year often complicates the opportunity to keep replacement heifers and optimize heterosis, said Bormann. “A crossbreeding system has to make sense, has to produce replacement heifers, and be able to keep going.”

For genetic improvement, the role of seedstock producers should focus on additive genetic merit (EPDs) and put it in a package that helps customers exploit non-additive effects (heterosis). In contrast, Bormann concluded that commercial cattlemen should care about additive and non-additive effects.

To watch Bormann’s full presentation, visit To download the slides to her presentation, click here.

More than 300 beef producers, academia and industry representatives attended BIF’s 54th Annual Research Symposium and Convention in Las Cruces, New Mexico. For more information about this year’s symposium, including award winners, coverage of the symposium and an archive to coverage of past conferences, go to

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