Composite breeding more than crossbreeding in the cattle industry

Composite cattle breeds are prevalent in the agriculture industry. Most producers have heard of breeds such as Balancer, SimAngus, LimFlex and so on, if they do not already have some of these cattle within their herd. Breeding and raising these types of cattle can have benefits for producers.

What Is A Composite Breed?

“The terms composite, synthetic and hybrid are used to signify new breeds or new lines of cattle,” Bryan Kutz, instructor/youth Extension specialist – animal science with the University of Arkansas, explained. “Many times these terms are used interchangeably. In any case, a planned mating scheme is designed to combine the desirable traits of two or more breeds into one ‘package’ (or composite). A more formal definition of a composite is a breed made up of at least two component breeds, designed to retain heterosis in future generations without crossbreeding and maintained as a purebred.” 

While composite breeding is a form of crossbreeding, it can be a more purposeful and intentional tool towards maintaining hybrid vigor and production results than just crossbreeding willy nilly with no clear plan or goal. 

What Are the Benefits of Composite Breeds?

Raising or breeding composite cattle has multiple benefits, one of the main ones being that composite cattle can be adapted to achieve high performance in their own environment. This can potentially appeal to smaller producers. 

“Use of composite cattle may be an advantage to smaller producers who have single sire herds because it may simplify for them the use of breed combinations for their production environment,” Kutz said. 

This does not mean larger producers can’t also enjoy the benefits of composite breed. Kutz said large herds may use composites or incorporate them into an existing crossbreeding program. 

“The genetical advantage of using composites relates to the ability to combine specialized sire breed lines and heterosis retention,” he said. 

Experts at the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma explained that composite breeds can be developed to take advantage of the relative strengths of existing breeds. All breeds have strengths and weaknesses. It is very unlikely that any single breed is optimal for a specific production environment. However, if we can offset a weakness of one breed with strengths from another, then it becomes possible to create a new composite breed that is targeted to specific natural and managerial environments.

Things to Consider Before Creating or Working with Composite Breeds

Producers who are considering a composite program will want to look into how the composite breed they are interested in was formed, along with the selection criteria applied to the population. Genetics of each breed that make up the composite cattle need to be widely sampled (15 to 20 sires per breed) or inbreeding and loss of heterosis can be a major issue. Selection of inferior seedstock in the formation of the composite or breeds which do not match long-term industry goals will lead to unsatisfactory results. Kutz advised seedstock producers should study the variety of breeds currently available before beginning the challenge of constructing a new composite. 

“Composites are difficult to develop. Therefore, before developing one, breeders should investigate existing breeds to see if there are already cattle available to use in a specific environment and that are market-desirable,” he said.


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