The Growing Angus Advantage
By Miranda Reiman
Industry Information Assistant Director, Certified Angus Beef
(Press release dated Nov. 3, 2010)
After decades of genetic progress, this ain’t your dad’s Angus.
Evidence suggests the Angus breed has been developed since the 1980s to a point where crossbreeding may not provide a feedlot or carcass advantage.
Two recent feedlot analyses, on more than 86,000 head, show Angus cattle beat crossbreds on feed, and data from the USDA Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) says the breed has caught Continentals in many growth traits.
“The Angus breed has a lot of tools and research, and breeders have used them to select a lot harder,” says Larry Kuehn, MARC research geneticist. “Take yearling weight for example, they’re almost as high as Simmental and Charolais now and they’ve passed Limousin and Gelbvieh. There’s been a tremendous amount of pressure there.”
One report examined cattle fed at Decatur County Feed Yard, Oberlin, Kan. The Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB) licensee tracked performance and carcass measures on calves in four groups. The straightbred Angus group had the highest average daily gain (ADG) at 3.53 pounds (lb.), compared to 3.32 lb. for those with less Angus heritage, 3.21 lb. for other breeds and 3.27 lb. for the unknowns. They also finished more quickly and did so at a heavier final weight.
An Iowa Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF) analysis sorted cattle records into four groups based on sire and dam information.
The more Angus breeding, the better the ADG. The range was 3.28 lb. down to 3.1 lb. for the lowest quartile.
The higher percentage Angus cattle spent fewer days on feed, 163.9 compared to 175.2 for those with a quarter or less Angus genetics.
Both datasets also demonstrate the carcass quality that is a hallmark of the breed.
“The classic example of bringing in another breed to achieve feedlot performance isn’t necessary with the selection tools we have for Angus and carcass merit and the feedlot component,” says Sally Northcutt, genetic research director for the American Angus Association.
The crossbreed expected progeny differences (EPDs), calculated by MARC since 1993, show a distinct trend in Angus genetics.
“Birth weight is as flat as it can be, even a little negative, while yearling weight is just climbing,” says Larry Cundiff, the emeritus geneticist who first published those EPDs.
In this year’s update, the average Angus birth weight shared the lightest spot with Red Angus at 92 lb., but yearling weight climbed to the third highest at 1,020 lb.—only 11.5 lb. less than Charolais.
“Angus has the best marbling by quite a bit,” says Kuehn. “They have a little bit of a trend in ribeye area now.”
The Association’s database shows yearling weight has soared since its 1979 base year (zero) to +82 lb. in 2009. More than 30% of that came in the last decade.
“The Angus people don’t think of their cattle as a terminal sire breed, but I do, because Certified Angus Beef and very effective selection for growth rate has put them in that position,” Cundiff says.
Bob Weaber, University of Missouri geneticist, says many producers haven’t evaluated that trend lately.
“They don’t recognize how much Angus has improved to close that gap in growth performance relative to the Continental breeds,” Weaber says. “Taken by itself, a change in growth or lactation can be advantageous, but if the perception is different than reality, the cattle may not be managed to their genetic potential.”
Larger, higher performing cows likely need more feed than their predecessors, Cundiff adds. To that point, the Association recently announced an EPD to target feed efficiency, and the residual average daily gain (RADG) measure will help producers select for better converters.
Reproduction is lowly heritable and tends to show the most heterosis, Weaber says. But the breed complementarity from crossbreeding Angus to continental European breeds may not have the performance advantage it once did.
“A highly superior breed in terms of one trait can beat its crossbred, if it’s enough different than the average of the pure breeds,” Kuehn says.
Take marbling in the example of an Angus-Limousin cross. There is a full point difference in marbling EPDs between the two breeds.
“Even if the crossbred has better marbling than the average, the Angus is still going to beat the crossbred,” he explains.