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Crossbreeds: What you need to know

Friday April 25 2014

The Girolando cow. Crossbreeds offer better milk and beef production.  COURTESY | NATION

The Girolando cow. Crossbreeds offer better milk and beef production. COURTESY | NATION 

Crossbreeds have continued to grace many farmers’ livestock pens with commendable success.

Most crossbreeding activities have been carried out to improve or upgrade the selected breed by tapping into the genetic prowess of the superior animal.

Often, the traits that are sought are productivity-based; milk, meat, pork and wool.

A large number of breeders concentrate more on passing on to the next generation productive traits as opposed to ecological ones, which include disease resistance, drought, thermal and vector tolerance and survival on poor quality pastures.

In crossbreeding, our key goal should be to achieve a good composite breed. That is, an animal that will require the small-holder farmer to administer fewer treatment regimes, less feeds and their management should not weigh heavily on the farmer.

A hardy and productive animal is an endearment to a farmer. Two key advantages of crossbreeding as opposed to using one pure animal are breed complementarity and hybrid vigour. Breed complementarity basically combines strengths of the two pure breeds.

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Breeders also take advantage of heterosis or hybrid vigour. Heterosis refers to the measure of the superior performance of the crossbreed compared to the pure parental breeds or average of both parents.

Crossbreeding is a process that requires thoughtful application of the breeding principles to avoid rampant and indiscriminate breeds that often have dire consequences, some of which include complete loss of indigenous qualities.

However, it is pertinent for crossbreeding to strive to establish an intricate balance between production and ecological traits and the environment.

A number of successful crossbreed stories have been reported. Breeders have carefully studied the pure breeds and undertaken intensive experimental crossbreeding before the establishment of a stable hybrid.

Most of the crossbreeds have yielded good returns in varied production systems. To mention just a few good cattle hybrids, a typical example is the Normande X Zebu cross.

This hybrid exhibits good milk production qualities as well as being well adapted for the local environments. The balance between the economic (milk production) and ecological (disease, vector and heat resistance) traits is evident in this cross. Milk productivity is greatly increased in comparison to the pure Zebu cattle.

The Girolando of Brazil is another good candidate for hybrid. It is a cross of the Holstein and the Zebu–Gir breed. The breeders have tapped into the milk production prowess of the Holstein and combined it with the ecological traits found in the Gir cattle.

The Simbrah cattle breed, a cross of the Simmental and Brahman Zebu cattle, is a renowned beef breed. It is important to note that amongst the listed successful crosses, Zebu cattle breeds are a common feature in the crossbreeding system.

The indigenous Zebu cattle boast of a wide distribution across Africa and their benefits are huge.

Dr Muchunguh is a livestock expert