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Composite breeds provide hybrid vigor in a straightbred system

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

What’s the big deal with these composite bulls, anyway? And why should producers use them in their cow herd? 

“Those are two very valid questions,” says Dr. Bob Weaber, a geneticist and head of Kansas State University’s Eastern Kansas Research and Extension Centers. 

For the answers, he says to look at the female side of the equation because this is where composite bulls help commercial cow/calf producers realize the benefits of heterosis without the headaches of a more complex crossbreeding program.

“Heterosis is the extra boost in performance we get above the average of the straightbred parents’ expected performance,” he says. “We get our biggest boost in performance due to heterosis in lowly heritable traits, like cow longevity and fertility.” 

And, given today’s cost in developing replacement heifers, cow longevity is more important now than ever before. 

Indeed, cow longevity and fertility are two of the most important economic traits in a commercial cow herd, without question. This is because producers can’t sell a calf that was never born. And, the longer a cow stays in the herd, the more her calves return economic value to the rancher. 

Typical crossbreeding programs, however, can be complicated and difficult to implement, especially if producers want to realize genetic improvement by retaining heifers. This is why Weaber thinks incorporating composite genetics like LimFlex into a breeding program is a good fit. 

LimFlex composites can have 25 to 75 percent Limousin genetics, with the remainder being registered Angus or registered Red Angus. 

“It’s very easy to implement, and the bulls come with the crossbreeding system already built in,” he says. “The commercial producer doesn’t have to do anything extra in terms of breeding pastures or identifying replacement heifers by breed of their sire. It’s as simple as straight breeding.” 

Composite bulls also allow cattlemen to benefit when the breeds selected possess complementary traits like Limousin and Angus do. Coupled with heterosis, it adds even more to a commercial herd’s economic potential. 

“So, producers can expect a 13 to 15 percent improvement in weaning weight per cow exposed using a LimFlex breeding program, for example,” he says. 

Real world results 

This is what commercial cow/calf producers across the country have found. 

In fact, Shane Whiting and his two sons run nearly 1,000 commercial cows in northeast Utah near Roosevelt – all LimFlex, bulls and cows alike. His operation is testimony to how Limousin genetics have changed and improved over the years. 

“Docility and calving ease are the two number-one things for a commercial rancher,” Whiting says. “The docility of LimFlex is really great, but calving ease is top of the line. A cow has to be able to produce a calf without a lot of problems.” 

Beyond this, Whiting appreciates the longevity and fertility of his cows. 

“We run all of our cows until they turn 12 years of age,” he says, noting they have a 60-day breeding and calving season. “Our conception rate with LimFlex cattle has run 95 to 96 percent consecutively for up to 20 years now.” 

He also appreciates his cows have a moderate frame size, yet they milk well. 

“We have better longevity, and we have a better bag,” he says.

Then there’s payday. Whiting has carcass data on thousands of head beginning in 2014. During this year, his calves came down the rail grading 94 percent Choice and Prime. 

“Now we’re at 97 percent, and the feedyard thinks we have peaked out,” Whiting shares. 

Looking at data from the Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb. helps explain why Whiting’s LimFlex cows perform well on a diet of mostly grass and grass hay.

According to the research, Limousin-sired heifers had lower feed intake – 3.25 pounds per head per day – than Angus, Weaber notes. The Limousin heifers also had lower body weight gain – about 0.3 pounds per head per day. 

“There was no statistical difference in feed efficiency, yet there was lower intake. This is likely tied to the expected lower mature weights on these females,” Weaber says. 

Citing other research, Weaber points out Limousin females had the lowest mature cow weight among 10 breeds, with weights corrected for breed effect and contrasted to Angus. 

Drought insurance 

“We’ve been tested pretty hard as far as weather the last handful of years,” says Shane Anderson, a cow/calf producer from Towner, N.D. “We’ve mostly dealt with drought and feeding a lot of poor-quality roughages, but they seem to be holding up.” 

Anderson says throughout all of the years he’s used LimFlex genetics, he sees more consistency in the conformation and disposition of the cattle. 

“I’ve had a lot of confidence in LimFlex females as far as calving ease and calf vigor when they get up and get going. They’re a herd that doesn’t require a lot of attention in the spring, and that’s a big seller for me,” he says.

Anderson notes he’ll come back with LimFlex bulls on his replacement heifers. 

“I’m getting some thickness in the calves – some muscle. So, on the steer side, these percentage LimFlex cattle are producing some thick-made feeder calves,” he says. “I’m happy with the selection I’m finding in the LimFlex breed as far as bulls hitting my maternal needs as well as ones which hit the benchmark as far as feeder calves and performance I expect from them.” 

What’s more, Anderson is impressed with the longevity of LimFlex females. Because of ongoing drought, he culled pretty deep, but says there are still some females in his herd producing at 12 to 13 years old.

“They’re bringing in a decent calf, and they’re still running out with the middle-age cows. Their condition holds up well, and they’re still bringing a calf in,” he shares. 

When the time does come to rotate old cows out of the herd, their condition and ability to yield adds value at the sale barn. 

He says, “I still want some salvage value, and even at 12 or 13 years of age, they sell just as they would if they were five, six or seven years old. They look good.” 

Burt Rutherford is the director of content and senior editor of BEEF Magazine. He can be reached at This article was originally published by the North American Limousin Foundation and can be found at

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