Knowledge Center Blog

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Choices, Choices - Purebred vs. Commercial Cattle

One of the most incredible, wonderful, and sometimes frustrating parts of agriculture is how diverse it really is.  It encompasses so many different types of production, interests and passions – and yet everyone in agriculture feels connected.  When you think about the diversity in this industry, some of the differences are easy to spot – some farmers grow crops, while others raise livestock.  Some farm on a large scale while other grow product on a small scale to sell locally at farmers markets, etc.  But there are also differences that may not be so easy to spot from the outside looking in.
A couple of months ago we highlighted some difference between dairy and beef cattle.  These two types of cattle serve very different, yet equally important functions in agriculture.  Take it a step further, and within each of these types of cattle, there are even more differences that can be highlighted.
For beef cattle, there are many different production options available.  This offers a great amount of flexibility, but can also make it a little difficult for someone who is just starting and is trying to get an idea of what they should be doing, what costs they should expect, and other important questions.  One of the simplest differences is between purebred and commercial beef cattle producers.  In much the same way as many other species, cattle can either be purebred (registered, pedigree documented) or commercial (a cross between different breeds, generally without any type of documented pedigree).  Think purebred Labrador vs. “mutt”.  Except, these “mutts” are generally very specifically bred, meaning that the producer deliberately selected the breeds that were used to create them. 

As a general rule, purebred cattle are raised to produce breeding stock for other purebred producers and for commercial cattlemen.  These cattle tend to be managed a little more intensively – records are kept on birth weights, weaning weights, yearling weights, calving difficulties, reproduction and many other traits.  Most purebred producers belong to a breed association which keeps records on all cattle in that breed and generates information about the performance of the breed in general as well as specific animals.  Purebred producers utilize technologies such as artificial insemination (AI), carcass ultrasounds and DNA testing to a greater degree, and keep detailed records of when and to whom an animal is bred.  Animals tend to have access to more supplemental feed in purebred operations, as breeders are trying to maximize their genetic potential (although this is not always the case).  The bottom end of the calves are culled and sold as steers or market heifers, but the rest are kept as replacements for the herd, or sold for breeding stock to other breeders.  Bulls are sold both to purebred and commercial cattlemen to help them improve their herds.

Commercial cattle are different.  They tend to be managed less intensively.  A commercial cattleman may select While certain traits are still recorded by some producers (such as birth weights and weaning weights), generally not as many traits are measured.  AI is utilized in some herds, at least on first calf heifers, but herd bulls are largely used for breeding cattle.  Cows are still culled on reproduction, having a calf is what “pays a cow’s grocery bill”.  Generally, cattle are given less supplemental feed, and are expected to be able to maintain and raise a calf mainly on grass, with some help during the winter months.   Heifer calves can be sold either as breeding stock for other commercial cattlemen, or as market heifers, and bull calves are usually steered and sold either at weaning, or finished and sold as beef.

These are general descriptions, but within even these two groups there are many different variations.  Depending on location and available pasture/feed, markets, the farmer’s strength and weaknesses, and other factors, these operations can be adjusted to meet demand.   While this can be a challenge when beginning an operation and trying to determine how to proceed, it is provides flexibility and choices for both the producer and for customers who are looking for a specific type of product!
Monday, May 01, 2017
As a commercial cow calf operator the profit line is very low so any extra expenses cuts into profits. Commercial herds as you said can vary in size, some determined by terrain as to how many cows you can feed on grass each year without having to feed hay. Things can be as simple as a person has say 20 cows, they work a job on the farm and cattle income just provides some extra income. Even these size herds can be managed in a variety of ways from open grazing to intensive grazing where cows graze smaller areas and move every 2-3 days.
We run around 100 mommas hubby stays home but I still work out to bring in the real money.. we do intensive grazing, use bulls and keep records on production. Our calves including heifers we don't keep as replacement are sold at the stock yard. We do occasionally butcher an older cow for hamburger and sell off the farm. We provide minerals and yearly shots, lets call them immunizations to present diseases. We have unfortunately lost some really nice 500 lbs calves to black leg. The public needs to understand these are not antibiotics that we use, but just like adults and children needed immunizations to keep them from getting the illnesses these vaccines help prevent. Our herd is crossbreed to develope cows with the best traits to give to public the kind of tasty cuts of beef they love, while giving the producer the best possible calf to sell to the feed lots. It's a way of life not a get rich kind of thing. Bottom line it's like raising children, we all what the best outcome, but we all get there differently.
12/16/2019 8:09:43 PM

obed makobane tjaro
All along i've been having this question and now after reading this it is settled
6/26/2019 4:34:49 AM

Modern Dairy Machines
The title encompasses the whole blog, proving as knowledge center blog about choices of commercial cattle and how it can be bred. Approachable article understanding the necessity of the agriculture life !
11/27/2018 3:00:18 AM

Lyle Griess
Very helpful info
7/28/2018 9:57:36 AM