Which cattle breed do I choose?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked by clients who are either looking to set up a new farm or deciding which bull to use this season. It is a tricky one to answer and one that can incite a riot due to the amount of passion breeders often have for their chosen breed.

So how do I answer it? Simply put, I tell people to choose a type of animal—not a breed. There are over 50 different breeds available in Australia but they can be broken into three main groups—tropical, European and British.

Dexter and lowline cattle

Tropical: These breeds are adapted to the heat and can tolerate the lower nutrition and longer distances between feed and water that are often encountered in tropical areas. These breeds are generally Brahman or Brahman-infused, although there are a growing number of breeds that are Bos taurus based such as the Senepol, Belmont Red and Bonsmara. 

Tropical cattle are also more resistant to ticks than other types of cattle and show an increased resistance to babesiosis (see Tick article in this edition of Beeftalk). They are very highly regarded for easier calving and lower birth weights.

European: These breeds originated from Europe. They were originally bred for draught duties and so were selected for a higher degree of muscling than other breeds. 

This extra muscle increases the animal’s nutritional requirements, so they may not be suited to areas where nutrition can be lacking. European animals, for obvious reasons, can develop quite long coats making them more susceptible to ticks although a number of breeds—mainly with Mediterranean origins—can have shorter coats.  

These breeds are sought after by processors and feedlotters due to their excellent carcase characteristics, particularly the amount of lean beef they can carry when nutrition is adequate.

British: The breeds that originated in Britain and Ireland are well-known for their eating quality. We have all seen the advertising for Angus beef and this rings true as British breeds often top taste-testing competitions around the country. These breeds are known to marble better than other breeds and produce more muscle than tropical animals. Like the European breeds they can be long coated making them less suited to tropical areas and especially those areas with ticks.  

British breeds have a smaller frame than most European breeds and so are able to withstand periods of lower nutrition. 

So which one do I choose? To answer that you must think of your environment and your target markets. If you live in a ticky area then running tropical animals will greatly reduce the cost of treating for ticks. However if you are able to provide adequate nutrition, you may decide to go for the extra growth of European or British animals and accept the additional cost of treating for ticks.

I know you are probably thinking ‘he has only told me about types—not breeds’, but this is the very point I want to emphasise. Selecting a type of animal is more important than the breed, as there is always as much difference within breeds as between breeds. By this I mean, if your neighbour tells you Droughtmasters are better than Brangus do they mean all Droughtmasters are better than all Brangus? The answer is ‘no’ and you should be able to find excellent bulls in any breed that suits your environment and markets. By not locking yourself into one breed you can better access hybrid vigour through crossbreeding and potentially access bulls at lower prices.

Your property’s climate and land types (and hence nutrition), and the target market for your cattle are the key factors in deciding what breed or type of animal will best suit your enterprise.

Source: Beeftalk Magazine, Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation. 

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