We call our ranch a ‘commercial cattle ranch’. There are two types of beef ranches: purebred and commercial. A purebred ranch raises pure cattle of one breed, mainly used to sell as breeding stock to other ranchers. Some of the most common breeds in BC are: Aberdeen (Black or Red) Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn, Charolais, Simmental, Limousin, Gelbvieh, Maine Anjou. A commercial herd is a combination of breeds mixed together to try and get the best animal possible to suit your environment and customers.
On our ranch, our herd is composed of Aberdeen Black Angus and Hereford. The basics behind cross-breeding is to pick traits of breeds that you want, and use them to your advantage. A good Black Angus cow is fertile and very protective of her baby. Her baby has good vigor when born (which means he jumps up and starts nursing). Angus are easy calvers with ample milk. Her frame size is small to moderate and are polled (naturally without horns). Her offspring fatten quickly and posses more marbling in the meat than any other cattle (they make good steaks!) The dark skin pigment provides some resistance against cancer eye and sunburned udders. So you ask, “This breed sounds great, why mix in something else?” We breed this Black cow to a Hereford bull for a few reasons. One is, Herefords are traditionally quieter and easier to handle. The Hereford is particularly noted for its ability to thrive and reproduce under range conditions. Its heavy hair coat adapt it to harsh winter weather and it is able to hold its condition well during extremes in climate and scarcity of feed.
When you cross two completely different breeds, whose genetics differ, a great thing happens! It is called ‘Hybrid Vigor’! The immediate results of crossbreeding are an increase in vigor, mothering ability and reproduction. The great thing about crossbreeding is: one of our black baldy calves will be better than its’ Hereford dad or Angus mom at just about everything, from calf survival, milk production and speed of growth. On our ranch we do not use a ‘high milking breed’ (Jersey or Holstein as an example) because in some cases high milking cows, on the range, while producing a large calf the 1st year, may not rebreed because they have depleted their reserves of body energy just for milk production.
Our herd has slowly developed since 1948 to match our ranch. We buy bulls from proven purebred breeders and we only keep calves from our best cows. Right now our herd is getting quite consistent and we are looking at the possibility of adding a 3rd breed, possibly Simmental, to increase our calf weight and add a bit more milk. We will be very careful with this plan as we do not want to bring this ‘milk’ in but in turn have cows come up open.
The neat thing about the cattle industry is that we get paid a premium for larger groups of uniform cattle. In most other industries, like Lumber for instance, they get paid less for bigger lots. Next time you are driving by a herd of cattle, take note. Do they look the same, same color? Are the bulls the same as the cows or different? I hope you have a new appreciation into some of the work that goes into building a great herd of cattle. Your cow herd is kind of like kids, you put a lifetime into them! ~Erika Fossen~