Ohio Beef Newsletter

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Well-known member
Jan 20, 2007
LaRue, Ohio
Heterosis . . . Hype or Legit? - Robert Wells, Ag Specialist, Noble Foundation

For as long as the beef industry has existed, crossbred commercial cattle operations have made up the lion's share of the beef cattle population, and those "in the know" were telling producers to "clean up their acts." Now, it seems every publication you read or every expert you hear is talking about heterosis. So, you ask, "What's this fancy word 'heterosis,' and can I capitalize on it in my herd?" Well, simply put, heterosis is hybrid vigor. At the Noble Foundation's recent Beef Cattle Female Selection School, livestock specialist Clay Wright defined hybrid vigor as "the added advantage in performance of a crossbred over the average of its purebred parents." So, you say, "Hey, I've been doing things right all along and didn't even know it, right?" Well, not so fast...

There is more to hybrid vigor than just taking a crossbred cow and breeding her with any old bull. Numerous studies have been conducted over the years to look at this very subject. If you want to take full advantage of this phenomenon, there has to be some thought put into the process.

Hybrid vigor is most fully expressed when you use bulls and cows of known ancestry - not just breeding any bull to a cow you pick up from Joe down the road or you bought at the sale barn because the price was right. Work conducted at Texas A&M University by Dr. Jim Sanders has shown a 10 to 20 percentage point increase in calf crop born to F1 cows (a cow which is a first-generation cross between two breeds) when compared to straight-bred cows. The advantage will fall dramatically when F2 (F1 x F1 bred cows) or greater cows are used.

One of the most effective and simplest ways for calves to exhibit hybrid vigor is to use an F1 cow and a pure-blood bull of known performance and ancestry; this is what the Foundation livestock specialists have been suggesting to certain cooperators. Use of a pure-blood bull allows the producer to have some predictability of how the bull's progeny will perform. The prediction is made through the bull's EPDs. In the Foundation publication Crossbreeding Beef Cattle for Western Range Environments, Don Kress and Michael MacNeil stated that an average F1 crossbred cow returns up to $70 more per cow per year than the average straight-bred cow. To arrive at this number, they looked at the various traits (Table 1) that cross breeding affects and the advantage that hybrid vigor afforded to or detracted from the calf.

Table 1 Trait          Individual heterosisaa %                Maternal heterosisaa %                        Total heterosisa %
Calving rate                      0                                                            6                                                          6
Weaning rate                    0                                                            8                                                          8
Weaning weight                5                                                            6                                                          11
Yearling weight                4                                                              .                                                            4
% reaching puberty
@ 15 mo.                          15                                                            .                                                            15
Cow longevity                    .                                                            .                                                            38
USDA carcass grade          2                                                            .                                                            2
Days on feed                    -4                                                            .                                                            -4

a Individual heterosis = single crossbred (A x B); maternal heterosis = crossbred cow x purebred bull (AB x C); total heterosis = the additive effect of both systems
From Crossbreeding Beef Cattle for Western Range Environments by Don Kress and Michael MacNeil
After studying the table, it becomes obvious that a well-thought-out terminal crossbreeding program can work for many beef producers. Breeding a pure-blood bull to a crossbred cow is one way to maximize hybrid vigor (total heterosis in right-hand column of table). Research has shown, though, that taking crossbred bulls and breeding them with crossbred cows reduces the amount of hybrid vigor that can be expected. This is the reason the Foundation's livestock discipline is recommending an F1-type cow bred to a straight-bred bull of known performance data (EPDs) and ancestry.

It does not matter if you are selling your calves at weaning, as yearlings or retaining ownership through the feedlot; you cannot afford to give up the advantages that hybrid vigor will convey to your bottom line.

Ethanol Matters! And So Does Every Week - Nevil C. Speer, PhD, MBA, Western Kentucky University (reprinted with permission from 4/11/07 CattleNetwork.com)

March's Monthly Market Profile allowed me to introduce some of my zeal for college basketball. Admittedly, I'm a fanatic. My wife often encourages me to write a book. If I ever find motivation and/or time to do so it will likely be about basketball with the focus surrounding my theories about the game and its parallels with basic principles of life. Much of my fascination derives from that analogy; which I also surmise explains much of the sport's popularity. (Sound like a bestseller? OK, Probably not…) Nonetheless, the game's appeal for me boils down to this: every possession matters. And that metaphor spills over to my interest in markets: every week matters - most aptly demonstrated during the past several weeks.

Cattle feeders were the benefactors of a prosperous little run of late and the timing couldn't have been better. March sales began mostly $93-4. However, business transitioned during the first full week with inheritance of April as the front-end contract at levels of $100+. CME's bullishness, weak basis and higher cutout values converged to bolster feedyard bargaining position and cattle feeders subsequently received $98-9. At that point it seemed $100 weigh-ups were realistically attainable. The momentum ended there, though, with the market drifting steady to slightly lower: feedyards loaded cattle at $97-8 for the next several weeks. And March closed on a sour note with negotiations ending at $95-6 in the south and $96-7 in the north.

There were some hints that fed trade had possibly peaked: spring highs were in and the feedyard managers would have to play catch-up from here on. April, though, ushered in good news. Both regions traded cattle relatively early in the week at $100. That turnaround comes on the heels of significant improvement at the CME: April live cattle plunged to $96 during the latter part of March and weighed down cash trade. The contract began to retrace those losses during the March/April transition recovering to $99 by April 4. The contract then jumped on news of $100 cash trade and now stands to retest the highs.

Much of the wavering on the live side is directly attributable to active volatility on the wholesale side. Choice cutout values moved strongly into positive territory in early March: nearly $19 over the course of 8 days to surpass $167. Just as quickly, though, the wholesale market rescinded nearly $12 (down to ~$152 by month's end) pressuring cash trade back to $95-6 levels in late-March. The four-week moving average now stands at $159 - nearly $17 better than 2006 and responsible for much of the $13-14 advantage in fed steer prices. And that advantage has stimulated profitable closeouts and provided underlying support to the feeder market. (Couple that with USDA's Planting Intentions report which drove corn prices sharply lower and fueled renewed interest in feeder purchases: yearlings now stand at $110.)

Several observations are critical to the summer outlook: August Live Cattle possesses some important components which could add to volatility in the coming months. First, as noted in last month's MMP, improved closeouts will induce renewed interest in buying heavy replacements from winter programs. USDA's cattle-on-feed report indicated that feedyards were especially active in procuring yearlings; cattle weighing over 800 lb made up nearly 30% of all February replacements and ran 16% ahead of last year's levels. Those cattle will be short fed and begin to need a marketing window in late June. Second, spring weather has indeed initiated improved performance and facilitated compensatory gain. As such, there's been a rapid reversal of 2007's year-over-year trend of lower carcass weights. Steer carcass weights were 26 lb heavier at year's end. That trend quickly reversed to a 17-lb deficit by mid-March; a difference of 43 lb over the course of 12 weeks (equivalent to nearly 70 lb of live-weight). However, during the past two weeks the difference has moderated to only a 6-lb deficit compared to 2006. That's a testament to the industry's efficiency and the ability to quickly impact production (especially in light of the previously mentioned placement pattern: heavy in, heavy out). It also speaks to the market's relentless signal of the overwhelming reward for weight despite conventional wisdom of lighter carcass weights amidst higher corn prices.

August also possesses some concerns from the demand side. One, despite a stronger wholesale market in general, the Choice/Select spread has moved in the opposite direction: the four-week moving average for the Choice/Select spread finished the first week of April at $8-9 - $2 behind year-ago levels. Boxed beef has been active this week. However, the divergence indicates some vulnerability. That scenario's compounded by some concerns on the consumer front - namely higher fuel prices. And two, a reprieve on Pacific Rim beef trade has failed to materialize during the past 30 days (for more on the importance of such see last month's MMP).

Cattlenetwork's Stocker Cattle Forum recently centered discussion upon ethanol and its impact on the cattle industry (www.agnetwork.com/forum/). As a moderator, I was asked to address that issue. The forum possesses some inherent limits. The topic is very complex. Moreover, it's an incredibly important dynamic for the beef business. As such, I thought it'd be constructive to dedicate space to flesh out some of the important considerations of ethanol and its relationship to the industry.

Clearly there's lots of discussion regarding the ethanol industry. However, to properly assess its long-term impact on the beef industry it's useful to provide some context of the size and location of ethanol production. Two illustrations are provided below to help reference some of that discussion.

The first graph outlines the industry's ethanol-producing capacity. The diagram portrays dramatic growth during the past several years. Production capacity as of Jan 1, 2007 (approximately 5.5 billion gallons) has more than tripled since the beginning of the decade and doubled in just five years. The largest annual growth in production capacity occurred during 2006 - it's no coincidence the recent surge in corn prices initiated in the second half of the year as much of that capacity came on-line. Meanwhile, the large growth has yet to occur. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) estimates growth in production capacity to actually accelerate: approximately 3.1 billion additional gallons of capacity is scheduled to come on-line during 2007 - that's more than 2.5 times the growth in 2006. And expansion during 2008 will include another 2.3 billion gallons. Annual production capacity will exceed 12 billion gallons by 2010 -7 times larger than the size of the industry's potential just ten years earlier.

It's also important to recognize where that production, and projected growth, is occurring. The second graph illustrates the relative contribution of total production on a state-by-state basis. Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois represent 27.8, 13.9 and 10.1 percent, respectively, and represent over 50% of the nation's total output by 2010. It's no coincidence that those three states are also the top 3 in terms of corn production. They combine for approximately 48% of the nation's corn harvest during the past three years. Moreover, 9 of the top 10 states in terms of ethanol production are also in the top 10 relative to corn production; the only exception being Texas which ranks 12th nationally from a 3-year corn production standpoint. Despite lots of talk about the potential of cellulosic ethanol technology and new investments in such, it's clear the foundation of the industry is found in corn. Ethanol is simply an alternative means by which to market corn - thus production is largely proportional and concentric to each state's potential supply.

Now, let's put this in terms of the cattle industry. Kansas and Texas: during the past five years the two states combined possess a monthly on-feed population average of 5.135 million head. Turning that inventory 2.25X per year is equivalent to 11.5 million head. Consumption of 3,000 lb of corn per head during a 150-day feeding period is equivalent to 34.7 billion lb of corn annually or 619 million bushels. Meanwhile, ethanol production in the two states combined is 877.5 million gallons requiring approximately 337.5 million bushels of corn. Ethanol corn utilization is equivalent to nearly a 55% increase in feedbunk capacity in the region.

Needless to say, that plays a major role relative to the corn market and local basis. And that's where we'll pick up next month.

Forage Focus: Freeze Injury on Forages is Variable Across the State - Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist

In just the past few days I've had the opportunity to observe alfalfa in west central and northeast Ohio, and have been amazed at the variation in freeze injury by location. Near Springfield, our alfalfa plots were severely frosted back, and on Friday there was very little green growth visible. Nearly all the topgrowth has been killed back to the crown, and the plants will have to initiate new buds and start completely over. Given that level of injury, I expect the first harvest will be delayed by 2 weeks at the minimum.

The picture at Wooster today was very different. The alfalfa looked much better at Wooster, and is recoverying very nicely. First harvest has probably been delayed by a week or less. The alfalfa growth at Wooster had many green shoots that were growing nicely, with just the tips frost injured. A week from now I suspect no lasting effects of the frost will even be visible there.

The contrast between those two locations was quite remarkable. I suspect the delayed breaking of dormancy in northeast Ohio resulted in much less freeze injury to the alfalfa compared with further south near Springfield, Ohio. I will be keeping a close eye on the alfalfa near Springfield and providing reports in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, do keep a close eye on the alfalfa, especially regarding weevil feeding.

It was also quite interesting to see the difference between species in freeze injury. At Springfield, where the alfalfa was severely injured, our red clover trial was not and looked just fine. The red clover must have broken dormancy later, and was less susceptible when the cold weather hit. Several perennial ryegrass varieties were severely winter injured in our trial at Springfield. We will report those varietal differences in our annual forage performance trials report in the fall.

Plant Your Forages Now! - Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist

I've heard some questions about planting forages, and is it too late to plant? All the way through April is perfect timing for planting most cool-season forages. I hope many have been busy the last few days getting forages planted (as I have). The conditions have been ideal to get the job done. We can plant forages even into early May, but the later it gets after the first week of May, the more stress and weed competition the seedlings will likely encounter. Remember, take time to adjust the planter so seed is placed about one-quarter inch deep to no more than one-half inch deep in a firm seedbed.

Stand Establishment Problems in Late 2006 Summer Seeded Alfalfa - Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist

I've heard reports of stand establishment problems in alfalfa planted last summer. This is particularly true in northwest Ohio where standing water reduced stands over the winter. The question is what can be done about it?

If the thin spots are not too numerous and are relatively weed free, alfalfa can be interseeded with a no-till drill to thicken up the stand as soon as soils are fit. Alfalfa planted just last summer (2006) will not yet be old enough to cause problems from autotoxicity.

Interseeding to thicken up the 2006 summer seedings will only be successful if the surviving plant density is very low and will provide minimal to no competition to new emerging seedlings. Use careful judgment before attempting to interseed where there is surviving alfalfa stand.

If winter annual weed populations are high in the areas with stand loss, a glyphosate treatment to eliminate that competition will be important before trying to interseed. Raptor and Pursuit are not an option where alfalfa is to be reseeded. The waiting period for alfalfa seeding is 3 months for Raptor and 4 months for Pursuit application.

If stand thinning is severe throughout the field, and especially if winter annual weeds are a concern, then it will be best to start over. Kill the entire stand (with glyphosate, and possibly tillage) and replant as if it were a completely new seeding.

I realize that precipitation has been well above normal during the past 6 to 8 months, but it will likely happen again in Ohio. So do your best to pick fields for alfalfa that have good internal and surface drainage to ensure productive and persistent stands.



Well-known member
Jan 29, 2007
They are better writers than me, at least when I'm on the spot like here.  But yes, that's basically what I was trying to say about heterosis, so thanks Red.