Investigating novelty traits to improve cow-calf efficiency in South African Afrikaner, Angus and Charolais for climate-smart production
The aim is of the study was to identify novelty traits that could be used as breeding objectives to improve cow-calf efficiency and describe cow efficiency in extensive systems in support of climate-smart production in beef cattle. The traits that were investigated were ‘weaning weight of the calf as a trait of the dam’ (K205) and ‘kilogram calf weaned per large stock unit’ (KgC/LSU. The latter trait is a value that expresses performance (calf weaning weight) per constant unit, namely per LSU. This may be a useful breeding objective or goal to increase production efficiency, which may reduce the carbon footprint of extensive beef cow-calf production systems. The investigation of the novel traits was conducted on three diverse breeds, namely Afrikaner, Angus and Charolais, with 6104, 7581 and 2291 complete cow-calf records, respectively. Only cows with all three first parities recorded were used to investigate KgC/LSU and K205, as breeding objectives to improve cow-calf efficiency. The heritabilities for KgC/LSU were 0.52, 0.24 and 0.21 for the Afrikaner, Angus and Charolais, respectively, and for K205 were 0.40, 0.17 and 0.13 respectively. The genetic relationship between KgC/LSU and K205 for Angus and Charolais varied substantially. In Charolais cows a strong negative correlation (-0.75) was found, while a strong positive correlation (+0.84) was estimated in Angus cows. These results indicate that a ‘cow efficiency index’ in which several traits (production, fertility and efficiency) are included may be a more effective alternative breeding strategy. Breeding strategies and production systems to improve the production efficiency of beef cattle could play a significant role in reducing the carbon footprint and would enhance climate-smart beef production.
Keywords: breeding objective, calf weight, cow weight