Meeting Genetic Demand in South America - An Overview of Brazilian Genetic Improvement and Crossbreeding Programmes Vasco Beheregaray Neto , MSc. Beef Product Manager ABS Pecplan*- BR 050 Km 195 P.O. Box 4046, Uberaba–MG, 38020300, Brazil.*ABS Pecplan is part of Genus Breeding, a division of Genus plc.INTRODUCTIONBrazil’s cattle industry is undergoing a massive expansion with total cattlenumbers that reached 185 million heads. With this figure, Brazil is the largestcommercial cattle herd in the world. With 16% of world cattle numbers, Brazil has20% of the world beef trade, which was worth US$ 3,6 billion in export earningsin the year 2003. European breeds as well as Zebu breeds played anextraordinary part in this history of Brazilian beef industry. European breeds (Bostaurus) account for 90% in the Southern Brazil. In the tropics, Central andNorthern areas, Zebu is the predominant breed along its crossbreds andcomposites (Figure 1). Figure 1. Nelore cattle- The basis of crossbreeding in BrazilBrazil is an extensive, low-input system and based largely on natural pastures.Stocking rates vary nationally between 0.2 to 2 animal units (AU’s) per hectaredepending on the amount and quality of improved pasture on the farm.In some areas, cattle lose weight during the winter or dry period, when pasturegrowth is at its lowest. However, this situation is changing as producers arelooking for more technology and business people are investing in the primarysector.However, there are a lot of new management practices introduced in beef farms.Management practices such as the use of urea, mineral salt with protein,
supplementary feed (grain) and the use of sugar cane (both cane and residues)during winter have resulted considerable improvement in the level productivity asthese practices help the cattle to cope the difficult environment over the winter(dry) period. Research is moving fast and efficiently in identifying ways to copewith severe limitations imposed by the tropics.As the beef business is getting more competitive and information is moreavailable, there are many study groups investigating about profitability andfeasibility of alternative feed systems, combinations of feed mixes, economic sizeof herd under each system. Much of this information was not available until fewyears ago.Research and extension services need to be improved and be more participantproviding guidance, sound information and disseminating technology. Brazil hasa natural advantage for cattle production based on pasture land and the researchmust produce knowledge and information that would be applied to this situation.Feedlots have been introduced in Brazil, mainly in the Southeast. The feedlotsystem has gained momentum in the off-season (July to December), with goodprofits, and this kind of operation still offers some attractive financial returns,although this is not true for the year of 2004 where cattle prices practiced werevery low.Some new feedlot areas are being formed. Feedlot operations are beingintegrated with cropping activities in Northern areas of Brazil. As feedlot numbersrise, demand for crossbred animals also increase (Figure 2). Figure 2. European crossbreds - Nelore x Limousin
Much of this is already happening and some breeds of beef cattle are being usedmore intensively, especially various European Beef breeds such as Red Angus,Angus, Charolais, Simmental, Limousin and Hereford which are being crossedprimarily with Zebu.MAJOR BEEF A.I. REGIONSThe major beef AI region in the world is South America. The table 1 presents thecow population and AI percentage for these markets. Countries Beef Cows Beef Heifers Total females % A.I. US 33.5 million 5.5 million 39 million 4.0% Canada 3.9 million 0.7 million 4.6 million 4.0% Brazil 45 million 15 million 60 million 5.5% Argentina - - 25 million 3.0 % Australia - - 11 million 3.5% UK 1.7 million 0.2 million 1.9 million 5.0% Table 1 – Major beef regions in the globeThe information compiled in this table shows that Brazilian market offers thelargest current and potential business opportunities.BRAZILIAN ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION MARKET IN 2003The chart below shows the rapid growth in artificial insemination (AI) since 1995and it indicates that the rate of growth in AI is very likely to be growing in the nextfew years (Figure 3). This has been a result of higher breeding cows number aswell as focus on improvement in productivity. The development of more effectiveand economical cow synchronization systems will allow significant increase inbeef AI. Semen sales from 1995 to 2003 8,000,000 7,000,000 6,000,000 5,000,000 4,000,000 3,000,000 2,000,000 1,000,000 0 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 BEEF DAIRY TOTAL Source: Asbia, 2003Figure 3. Brazilian A.I. market- units of straw
The rate of growth for beef AI is higher than dairy sector which appears to beslowing slightly although is still growing.About 3,1 million of beef straws were sold in 1995 while in 2003 the beef sectorhas demanded 4,8 million units. In the last 8 years, the annual rate of growth ofAI has been 11.3 per cent. Currently, t e % usage of AI is about 5,5%. This is hdue mainly to the extensive management systems utilized by most producers.Due to the tropical conditions, Bos Indicus is predominant and account for morethan 60% of semen sales. However, crossbreeding industry is important for beefquality and productivity, therefore Angus Polled Hereford, Limousin, Simmentaland Charolais are the most important European breeds. The chart belowillustrates the most representative European breeds (Bos taurus) in the BrazilianA.I market in the year 2003.(Figure 4). ADAPTED MARCH BRAUNVIEH BREEDS 1% 2% 11% BLONDE OTHERS 3% 12% CHAROLAIS 6% LIMOUSIN 7% SIMMENTAL 8% POLLED HEREFORD ANGUS 6% 44% Source: Asbia, 2003 Figure 4. Market Beef sales by breed in 2003.CROSSBREEDING BEEF CATTLE IN BRAZILMany beef herds are using crossbreeding as a tool for optimizing traits,improving productivity through heterosis and by combining traits from differentbreeds to match cattle to varying environments and markets (Table 2). Production traits (%) Calf survival +4.9% Growth of crossbred calves +3.8% Cow’s ability to transmit extra weaning rate +6.2% Weaning weight due to increased milk +5.8% Added Longevity of the crossbred cow +16.2% Source: MARC, 1992 Table 2 – Some advantages of crossbreeding in beef cattleMarket pressures, price war and consumer perceptions are causing changes onto the beef industry. Competition from pigs and poultry industry will not go away.Therefore, productivity and efficiency must be improved. This will require thebest use of all resources available including genetic resources.
Crossbreeding is used to maximize productivity through hybrid vigour (heterosis).The largest benefit of heterosis is realised on lowly heritable traits, such asfertility and reproduction traits. These are one of the most relevant traits thatdetermine the profitability of a beef enterprise. Profit is a key in any operation andbeef farms are no exception. Profit must be realised and Brazilian breederscannot ignore the benefits of hybrid vigour.The use of crossbreeding in Brazil is apparently somewhat in decline at thepresent time due to several factors.Poor management would be number one factor causing this decline of the use ofcrossbreeding. Many farmers have introduced top genetics on their farm systemswithout any change in the feed supply and feed quality. Without this basicresource, it is impossible to capture the benefits of crossbreeding.There are also factors such as discrimination by some packers against crossbredanimals.This discrimination against crossbred market animals in Brazil is possiblydue to the perception/excuse that pure zebu animals have higher dressingpercentages than do Bos taurus crossbred animals. While this may even be trueto some extent, cattle producers would need to weigh this disadvantage againstthe fact that crossbred animals of the right biological type can be ready forslaughter months earlier than pure zebu animals. This make a significantdifference in terms of profit and breeders should be aware of that.The US and Australia are well know by the top quality product and high productvalue and in these countries there is a severe discrimination against zebuanimals by feeders and packers due to quality issues.On the other hand, Brazilian beef industry continues to discriminate crossbredanimals. If this situation continues in the future, Brazil will be always selling itsbeef as a commodity. Packers should recognise different market needs andfocus on how to add value to their product.However, crossbreeding also have limitations and these limitations should bewell understood by farmers and people involved in the beef cattle industry.There are some areas in the country where crossbreeding is not as successful asthe purebred well-adapted zebu cattle. This occurs due to environmentconstraints, which includes not only elements of climate but also effects ofparasites, diseases and the overall level of management.In general, crossbred animals are high-performing cattle that require more care,higher quality and larger quantity of feed. These crossbred animals will be muchmore influenced by drought and diseases than will lower performing cattle withlower requirements.
Therefore, planning is essential to ensure crossbreeding programme to besuccessful. Planning involves strategies for improving nutrition level, soundmanagement practices, attributes of adaptation to tropical stresses such aspigmentation, short hair, resistance to ticks, sound structure…etc.Other criticisms of crossbred animals that have been raised in Brazil includevariability of coloration and other characteristics that may lead to marketing andmanagement problems.However, this is not true when you decide to use the right bull or breed. Thereare several good examples of crossbred calves uniform in color, hair length andgood eye appeal (Figure 5). Figure 5. Nelore cows and crossbred calves showing colour markingAnother concern about crossbreeding in Brazil relates to wrong crossbreedingthat had been practiced in the past, e.g. large frame bulls, unproven genetics,“hairy” animals. As a result, many animals were slaughtered without adequate fatcover, which reduces the carcase value. Genetic improvement is determinedprimarily by genetic potential. Then, producers must be sure about the bulls thatthey are using.Fortunately, this “learning stage” is already finished. Breeders have learned withtheir mistakes in the past and there are now using European Breeds with clearobjectives, better planning, more conscious about how EPD’s technology couldadd superior genetics.Breeders are more discerning and informed about adequate breeds and sireswithin breeds to produce crossbred males and females adapted to thenutritional/management environments under which they were to be maintained.It is important for producers to use a planned system even if it is a simple one(Figure 6).All mistakes and incorrect choices from the past have brought invaluableinformation for the beef industry. Beef producers already know where and howcrossbred animals can be used in order to achieve an acceptable performance.
Despite of decline, the crossbreeding still exists and has sold 1,5 million units ofsemen in 2003. There are many farmers with proactive attitudes that believe inthe benefits of crossbreeding. The nature of beef business requires farmers to beresilient, optimistic, tough and to have the willingness to bounce back fromtemporary disappointments.Crossbreeding is extremely beneficial, but the benefits can be reduced by poorplanning. So, breeders should remember; (1) To pick breeds carefully so that there is a good match of GxE interaction (2) Select sires and female replacements wisely to ensure superior genetics. EPD’s is extremely useful (3) Crossbreeding will not compensate poor management (4) Breed’s choice should be carried out carefully. (5) Optimize and use the breed complementarityAt the end of the day, crossbreeding programmes should be based on soundinformation, animal production principles and bit of common sense. Figure 6. Crossbreeding systems in BrazilianEXPLORING THE BREED COMPLEMENTARITYBreed complementarity must be explored in order to make the best combinationinvolving different breeds and its productive attributes.British breeds, such as Angus and Polled Hereford, are calving ease (less laborand reduced cost on purebred cattle), maternal ability, and very fertile cattle andimprove carcase and beef quality.On the other hand, Continental breeds such as Limousin, Simmental andCharolais add growth potential, milk production, muscling and high carcase yield.In the tropics, Zebu genetics are necessary due to high resistance toenvironment stresses such as ticks, worms, heat, diseases and droughts.
Complementarity is used to optimize production traits e.g. bull from breed A isused to transmit rapid growth and desirable carcase trait, breed B is used toimprove maternal traits or reduce the frequency of dystocia. Complementarity isan effective approach to optimize traits and using contributing breeds to achievea better balance of traits.In summary, breed complementarity is to use the best breed combinationavailable that will result in a desirable match of crossbred cow genotype to theparticular environment.SELECTION FOR AN EFFECTIVE GENETIC IMPROVEMENTGenetic improvement could be achieved not only by crossbreeding but alsoselection. Selection is a key issue in the whole process. Selection is to choosecorrectly the genetically superior animals and allow them to reproduce on a farm.However, we can’t see an animal’s genes but we can estimate this throughEPD’s (Expected Progeny Differences). EPD technology will take the“guesswork” out of selection decision. Then, an accurate selection will allow youto accelerate the genetic progress focusing on the economically relevant traits(cash in your pocket).EPD is the best genetic prediction that modern technology can provide. Thisprovides informed decision for producers select superior genetics.PROGENY TEST: PRODUCING YOUNG SIRES FOR BRAZILIAN BEEFSYSTEMThe objective of progeny is to identify those bulls with the highest potential toimprove Brazilian beef herdsAs Brazil import genetics from many countries, it is useful to carry out a progenytest of young sires under Brazilian grazing conditions. To achieve results,progeny testing requires a partnership. Many parties are important, includingbreeders who produce bulls for progeny testing, herd and farmers who collect theinformation required to produce EPD’s, geneticists, sales team and AI centre thatproduce semen to be distributed throughout the country. All of these areimportant, but none are more important than farmer co-operators. Without abreeder involvement progeny testing would not be possible.As a commercial company ABS Pecplan can see the quality of geneticsimproving each year through calves produced by progeny test bulls. The bestbulls available from this progeny test are sold through our A.I. Company.
Progeny test is expensive and necessary. There are several steps until theresults appear. The main progeny test steps carried out by ABS Pecplan arebriefly described below:Selecting a young bull: Young bulls candidates are selected based on theirgenetic merit. To calculate this genetic merits some information are necessary: • The animal’s own performance • The performance of all know relatives in all herdsUsing this criteria, high selection pressure is applied to ensure the bestindividuals will be the participants of a progeny test.Visual Assessment: EPD’s are important tools for selection. However, thephenotypic traits should not be ignored. That is why a visual assessment is partof the process.Semen distribution- We collect semen of this selected team of young sires. Thissemen is used in herds of our partners. In these herds, progeny test semen isused randomly for the first and second round of matings over the range of cow.In summary, progeny test end up with a carefully selected team of young bulls,all with the highest genetic potential to improve Brazilian beef herds. For long-term industry benefit, and the benefit of individual farmers and our customers, wewill continue to support the important task of progeny testing.This is part of our philosophy as a company that sells genetics and our primarygoal is to provide the highest quality genetics for Brazilian grazing conditions.GENETIC EVALUATION PROGRAMMESThere are more than 25 Beef improvement programmes within Brazil (Table 3).Most of them are on Nelore commercial cattle and European breeds (Bostaurus). There are three major genetic improvements that involve EuropeanBreeds. These are: Promebo, Natura and Delta G Conexion. Table 3- Beef Improvement programmes within Brazil Program Start # of herds n Evaluated by ABCZ- Zebu 1984 1.147 > 1.2 million Embrapa CFM- Nelore 1984 20 > 500.000 GMA/USP PMGRN- Nelore 1992 199 >470.000 FMRP/USP Aliança- Nelore 1997 183 >340.000 Gensys Qualitas - Nelore 2002 25 37.000 GMA/FMRP/USP Lemgruber- Nelore 1998 1 26.000 GMA/USP DELTA G* 1992 38 > 440.000 Gensys ABCANC- Charbray 1999 20 > 230.000 Embrapa NATURA – Angus Brangus 1986 124 162.000 Gensys Promebo- Angus 1992 217 104.000 ANC/Gensys Promebo-Devon 1992 29 26.000 ANC/Gensys Promebo-Charoles 1992 66 13.000 ANC/Gensys
Promebo- Hereford 1992 108 140.000 ANC/Gensys Simmental 1993 202 41.500 UNESP Santa Gertrudis 1997 15 40.000 GMA/USP Marchigiana 2000 15 87.000 GMA/USP Braunvieh 2000 38 > 26.000 GMA/USP Caracu 1998 23 8.000 Embrapa Montana 1997 30 >250.000 GMA/USP Source: Adapted from DBO Magazine * Nelore,Braford&herefordNATURA genetic evaluation programme is one of the oldest programmes inBrazil. It was founded 1986. This programme is involved with genetic evaluationof Angus and Brangus within Brazil. There are 124 breeders involved, 1.867 siresand 162.000 progenies evaluated.Another sire summary is named Delta G Conexion. It was founded in 1993 andhad evaluated more than 440.000 performance records. Delta G Conexion isbased on more than 27.000 breeding cows and their progenies. All calves aremonitored and data are collected at birth, weaning and as a yearlings. Cows areassessed for calving ease and maternal traits. The measures are taken in twostages of animal’s life: At weaning which is approximately six months of age andas a yearling 17-18 months of age (Figure 7).The most common traits are: • Birth weight (BW) • Growth (weaning and yearling)- WW & 550-day GROWTH • Maternal traits - MILK • Beef conformation and beef capacity (C) • Muscle shape and development (M) • “Precocity”- Fleshing ability (P) • Sheath scoring system • Scrotal circumference & early puberty - SC • Functional phenotype – sound feet& legs, capacityFigure 7. Visual assessment of C, P and M.Recently, the scan technology has been introduced. Delta G Conexion is nowusing ultrasound to evaluate carcase traits in order to identify those individualsthat will improve beef quality.The new EPD’s available on this programme are REA and FAT depth.
This group has been always innovating and improving their genetic evaluationprogramme through the use of technology. As resistance to the cattle tick ismoderately heritable and improvements can be achieved through selection ofbreeding stock for tick resistance they have released the latest EPD for “tickresistance”.Beef cattle genetic improvement programmes are highly important and they aregaining popularity in the last few years. The Brazilian government recognizes thisimportance and has created incentives to promote beef improvement. A goodexample of this would be CEIP programme, which was created in 1989.CEIP is the Special Certificate of Identification and Production of FederalDepartment of Agriculture.Bull users and seedstock breeders have both genetic and economic advantages.This programme is audited by special government agencies, which givescredibility to the genetic programme. Only genetically superior animals, TOP20%, are marked with CEIP and these animals pay no tax when they are sold.Currently, there are 13 CEIP programmes within Brazil.SUMMARYAgribusiness in Brazil is going through a special moment. Cattle business isparticularly important in this forward movement. Artificial insemination market willcontinue to expand and Brazil offers the largest current and potential businessopportunities. Despite of the decline, the European breeds will continue to growand there are market signs indicating a “swing back to European breeds”. Thiswill occurs with much more professionalism, adequate management practicesand above all, sound information and common sense. The benefits ofcrossbreeding cannot be ignored and the cattle business cannot afford that loss.Information will be the key for the cattle industry in the future. Therefore, EPDs(expected progeny difference) are being widely used in crossbreedingprogrammes and our company will continue the policy of developing a strongproduct offer through of proven sires and top genetics for an effective geneticimprovement. We emphasize the importance of EPD’s for more accurateselection. Progeny tests will ensure that we are continually identifying trulysuperior genetics that meet market needs. However, we are aware that this maynot provide the complete picture. Then, new and promising technologies such asgene markers seem to be an innovative approach for the beef industry.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSFirstly, I would like to thank Duncan Pullar for inviting me to be a speaker in thisBritish Cattle Conference. I also wish to express my gratitude to Neil Wharton.Finally, I would like to show my appreciation to Genus Plc. for the financialsupport. This is an invaluable experience for me.
LITERATURE CITEDASBIA (2003). Brazilian Artificial Insemination Association report.Bindon, B. M. (2003). Innovative Approach to Beef Industry Research. Hereford World congresspaper. Australia.DBO cattle Magazine. August, 2004.Delta G Conexion 2004. Sire summary .7th edition.Enns, M.R.; Garrick, D.J. (2003). The economic benefits and potential when using current andfuture epd – economically relevant traits. Proceedings, The Range Beef Cow Symposium XVIII.December 9, 10, 11, 2003, Mitchell Nebraska.Frisch JE and O’Neill CJ (1998). Comparative evaluation of beef cattle breeds of African,European and Indian origins (1) Live weights and heterosis at birth, weaning and 18 months.Anim. Sci. 67:27-38.Frish, J.E. (1999).Crossbreeding Cattle- Maximising productivity through hybrid vigour. Notes ofTropical Beef Centre, CSIRO, Australia.Frish, J.E. (1999).Crossbreeding Values: Hybrid vigour- Pure Magic, pure profit. Notes of TropicalBeef Centre, CSIRO, Australia.Frish, J.E. (1999).Crossbreeding Values- After the F1- Where to go?. Notes of Tropical BeefCentre, CSIRO, Australia.Garrick, D.J. Enns, M.R. (2003).How best to achieve genetic change?. Department of AnimalSciences,Colorado State University,Fort Collins,CO 80523.Long, R.A. 1973. El sistema de avaluación y su aplicación en la mejora del ganado. GrandJunction, Colorado, ANKONY CORPORATION. 21pMacNeil, M.D.; (1998). Crosbreeding Beef Catlle for Western Range Environments. SecondEdition. Montana State University.Natura 2004. Sire summary .7th edition.