by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Livestock Specialist Joe C. Paschal, PhD.
Sustainability is a buzzword used by many, often to criticize modern agriculture. Merriam-Webster defines sustainability as “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; and able to last or continue for a long time.” As a part of modern agriculture, beef cattle production, including its breeds and management practices, also, fits each of those definitions. It has not completely used up natural resources, it has certainly continued a long time, and it has significantly contributed to feeding most of the world’s population I might add. I’ve been asked to discuss some aspects of sustainability of beef cattle in general, Brangus specifically, based on several traits.
The Brangus breed is in a unique group of breeds that include some Bos indicus genetics in their original design, and still do. Those genetics are well-known for increasing heat tolerance and parasite and disease resistance. Having these traits means they can be raised and fed in hotter and less hospitable areas than non-Bos-indicus-influence cattle, and usually with lower quality feedstuffs, especially when on range or pasture. Because of Bos indicus genetics, Brangus cattle, also, live longer. Brangus cattle and their Bos indicus counterparts are, also, more energetically efficient, perhaps because of a slightly longer gut retention time, and have a greater ability to store fat reserves and minerals than non-Bos-indicus cattle. Of course, not every positive attribute comes from Bos indicus genetics; many come from Brangus’s other parental breed.
One of the most noticeable traits of the Brangus breed is polledness, or lack of horns. At one time in our history, horns were considered not a convenience trait – meaning nice to have, but not necessary – but a desirable one. Most breeds are still horned, but most producers prefer polled or dehorned cows. Another trait from the other parental breed is Brangus’s ability to deposit marbling and, therefore, have a higher percent grading U.S. Choice. This may not seem like a sustainability trait, but if cattle are going to be fed, especially in hotter and less desirable environments, they need to be fed efficiently and rapidly to an optimal quality grade.
These effects are due mostly to the parental breed genetics; Brangus is a blend of those genetics. When two or more breeds are blended, the genes from each breed interact with each other to influence, usually positively, the performance of a trait, which is known as hybrid vigor or heterosis. The Brangus breed is no different. Hybrid vigor generally affects most of those traits that are expressed early in life or have little genetic variability and are difficult to change by selection, such as fertility (age at puberty, heifer pregnancy, etc.), stayability (sustained or lifetime fertility), calving ease, and milk production (and consequently its effect on weaning weight). Hybrid vigor is an important aspect of performance for the Brangus breed in these areas.
But Brangus is not a recent breed, and not all the attributes that contribute to its role in sustainable beef production are due to the parental breeds or hybrid vigor. Over the years, Brangus breeders have created a unique breed that is no longer just a mix of its beginning breeds. For a breed to be sustainable today, especially in the U.S., it must have attributes that make it acceptable to all cattle producers. Brangus breeders have made a commitment to selecting animals with high reproductive and growth performance, sound feet and legs, and exceptional udder and teat conformation. They have made a commitment to select cattle based on accurate performance records now augmented with genomic information to aid them in producing a sustainable beef breed that has been, and will be, around for a very long time!