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Crossbreeding with Shorthorns: The Heterosis Advantage

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Crossbreeding is an important management practice in the commercial beef industry, as it allows producers to utilize breeds that are from different, but complementary, biological types. This results in a combined benefit of more calves to market that are heavier, which translates into increased profitability. The two primary reasons to crossbreed are (1) heterosis (hybrid vigour) and (2) breed complementarity (breeds have characteristics which complement each other and fit the environment). Heterosis refers to the superiority of the crossbred animal relative to the average of its straight-bred parents. Generally, heterosis generates the largest improvement in lowly heritable traits. Heritability is the proportion of the observable variation in a trait between animals that is due to the genetics that are passed between generations and the variation observed in the animal’s phenotypes, which are the result of genetic and environmental effects. Traits such as reproduction and longevity have low heritability. These traits usually respond very slowly to selection since a large portion of the variation observed in them is due to environmental factors and non-additive genetic effects, and a small percentage is due to additive genetic differences. Heterosis generated through crossbreeding can significantly improve an animal’s performance for lowly heritable traits.


Shorthorns are one breed that has been shown to be efficient in improving reproductive efficiency and productivity in beef cattle. They have been used extensively in crossbreeding programs due to their ability to produce high-quality beef with excellent marbling characteristics. Shorthorn-sired calves have been shown to have superior growth rates, feed efficiency, and carcass quality when compared with straight-bred calves. Additionally, Shorthorns have been shown to be highly adaptable to different environments and management systems.




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