It seems logical that if a Hereford is more feed efficient, a conclusion based on extensive research done at the Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., crossing some Hereford blood into Angus stock should produce a black baldy cow that utilizes feed more efficiently.
Oklahoma State University beef specialist Dave Lalman set out to test that theory and confirmed it in his own study.
"Compared to a black cow, the black baldy was half a body condition score better while eating two pounds a day less hay," Lalman said in a recent interview.
That's significant, because it allows a cattle producer to increase their stocking rate or stretch limited land or feed resources in a deficit situation, he added.
In recent decades, an industry-wide push toward larger framed calves and heavier weaning weights has tended to overshadow cow efficiency, but that is changing, thanks to the efforts of researchers like Lalman.
"There's lots of data on post-weaning traits to help develop feed efficiency in that part of the business," he said. "But nobody measures how much forage a cow eats everyday. And I have to think that our continued selection for higher performance in our calves is also resulting in more expensive cows."
Data from the Kansas Farm Management Association indicates that around 65 percent of profitability improvement in an operation comes from lowering production costs, whereas only about a third results from increasing output.
Lalman said while producers still need to aim for a high performing calf, they need to be equally vigilant about selecting brood cows that are easier keeping, more feed efficient and less costly to maintain.
The goal should be to wean more pounds of calf while still keeping a cow's body weight moderate, he added.
Crossbreeding can also provide benefits from heterosis, or hybrid vigor, which has been shown to increase longevity and fertility, he said.
Breed selection is only one aspect of improving cowherd efficiency and profitability. Area producers will have the opportunity to learn more about all aspects of ranch profitability, particularly on the High Plains, during the annual Range Beef Cow Symposium, a joint collaboration of extension specialists in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota.
This year's conference is set for Nov. 18-20 at Mitchell, Nebraska, near Scottsbluff, with the theme of "moving science into practice."
Benton Glaze, an extension specialist at the University of Idaho, is among the researchers from around the country who have been invited to present.
Glaze said some of his current research looks at differences in feed efficiency between breeds and the potential for improvement through various crossbreeding scenarios.
The university manages a herd of black baldy cows that are used for research purposes.
Still, he emphasized there's no cookie cutter approach to cow or bull selection that works for everyone.
"The important thing is for producers to identify their breeding objectives and match their cows to the environment," he said by phone from his office.
Some of the other highlights from the Range Cow Symposium program include the following:Donnell and Kelli Brown, owners of the R.A. Brown Ranch in Texas, will discuss their family's history of running a successful ranch since 1906 and the strategies they've used to keep it in the family. A closer look at artificial insemination: When does it pay? Cash leasing vs. owning shares: strategies for running cows without owning them. Fake meat: How is it made, and how healthy is it really? Choosing and managing recipient cows for an embryo transfer program.
Live demonstrations during the event will include instruction on proper chute-side injections, processing and branding, embryo transfer procedures, movement of cattle using cow dogs and a trailer walk-around inspection. There will also be a trade show on-site, as well as evening receptions.
Register on-line and view the full agenda at Beef.UNL.edu/range-beef-cow-symposium.