‘Cattlemen’ learn new meaning for hybrid vigor at MU meeting

Duane Dailey

Get ready for a big word: Heterosis. I heard that word at meetings of cattle farmers this weekend. I haven’t heard that word used much in farm meetings for several years. It’s coming back.

Big words can carry big ideas. In this case it’s the result of crossbreeding that brings hybrid vigor. The simple way to convey the idea is just say: Hybrid vigor.

Scientists tend to use jargon derived from Latin or Greek of the original scientific writing. That’s okay. Translating science jargon into words that farmers understand has been my life work. I still have a job to do.

If you’ve seen herds of black cows with white faces, you saw what are called “black baldies.” Those result from breeding a Hereford cow to an Angus bull. Red cows with white faces and bellies are bred to a solid black bull. The calf predictably comes out black with a white face. There’s a lot of story on DNA and genetics in that simple combo.

In my early days in Extension news, I wrote lots on crossbreeding. MU animal husbandry specialists taught that to Missouri beef herd owners. I used the term “hybrid vigor” far more than “heterosis.”

That big word is based on Greek for “change.”

Back then, Herefords were a popular moderate-size British breed. They carried the name of their home county in west England. The black herds were what we called Aberdeen Angus. That indicated their home in Scotland. Those northern cattle were a hardy lot that also had superior carcass quality.

A speaker showed a photo of his grandfather with his champion Hereford bull. That bull came up to the cowboy’s belt buckle. (He was tall.) That bull is laughably short for today’s breeding. Cow herds grew bigger in height and in numbers.

(Personal aside: Selling an Aberdeen Angus cow from our herd paid for my ag-journalism education. Cows were high priced. Tuition was low. (Times change.)

Back to heterosis. In days of yore, MU animal husbandry specialists promoted making black baldies. Their hybrid vigor amazed. Feeder calf sales were started to capitalize on those hardy calves. Buyers paid big bucks for calves to send to feedlots, mostly in Iowa. That was the corn state and place for feeding calves — and Show-Me pigs. That’s another hybrid-vigor story.

We’ve come a long way. I heard new talks on genetic testing of every calf. That takes guesswork out of breeding. EPD scores tell Expected Progeny Differences. You pick and choose how calves turn out.

Now, about those weekend meetings: The Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer group moved their board meeting to the first day of the Missouri Cattlemans Association meeting. That mix gave terrific hybrid vigor.

The SMS group added an afternoon of quick reports, 15 minutes, along with panels of SMS breeders and veterinarians who like SMS herds. Vets love SMS herds. They have the genetics and management for calving ease. Vets hate those midnight calls to come pull a calf that is too big for the heifer to birth. It’s no win for all.

The vets do like annual visits for prebreeding exams or ultrasound pregnancy tests. Those make money for farmers.

A farmer on the breeder panel said with Show-Me-Select he gets lots more sleep in calving season.

The MCA meeting also offers their Cattlemen’s College. You just had to be there to reap benefits of both meetings. The SMS group opened their symposium for free to all who came. The room was jammed. Next year, they’ll book a bigger room.

I didn’t talk to anyone who wasn’t amazed at the meetings. The mix added vigor to the learning.

Each session was different. There were some vigorous Q&A sessions. Do I dare end with this cliché? A good time was had by all.

I hope re-telling goes on at farmer coffee clubs. There’s news worth passing on.

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