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F.E. Madalena 1/

The economic efficiency of cattle production may be improved by the appropriate choice of breeds, mating system and selection of individuals within breeds, to obtain increased product yield or quality per unit of input resources (land, labour, capital).

Experimental results on the comparative performance of cattle breeds and crosses in tropical Latin America indicate that, in general, crossbreds outperform purebreds both for beef (Madalena, 1977; Hernandez, 1981; Plasse, 1981, 1983) and for dairy production (Vaccaro, 1979; Wilkins et al. , 1979; Muñoz and Deaton, 1981; Madalena, 1981; Madalena et al. , T983b; De Alba and Kennedy, 1985). Crossbreeding allows exploitation of heterosis, maternal effects and complementarity between breeds but the appropriate strategy depends on the characteristics of the production system considered.


Tropical cattle production systems in Latin America were described by several authors (Plasse, 1976; Wilkins et al., 1979; Paladines, 1980; Madalena, 1981; Ruiz, 1982; Cubillos, T9"82; Sere and Vaccaro, 1984; CIAT, 1985). In general, beef cattle herds are kept in ranches and dairy cattle in smaller properties, but there is also a wide range of dual purpose systems. Coarse pastures/roughages limit nutrient intake, aggravated by periods of drought or flooding. Other constraints to cattle performance are: mineral deficiencies, incidence of diseases, ticks, torsalo grubs and gastrointestinal parasites, heat, humidity and solar radiation. Natural service is common, controlled matings and artificial insemination being practised at a minority of farms. Socio-economic constraints such as absentee ownership and low education level of rural populations are important background factors causing poor farm and herd management. It should be recognized that wide variations exist between and within regions, with many examples of good farming based on modern husbandry techniques.


Latin American cattle breed resources may be conveniently grouped into four classes:

  1. the founder Criollo naturalized initial populations, now mostly graded up;

  2. zebu breeds;

  3. the modern European breeds selected for high performance in temperate regions; and

  4. new breeds derived from crosses between European and adapted breeds, like the Santa Gertrudis, Canchim and Ibage for beef production and the Jamaica Hope, Pitangueiras and Siboney for milk production, to mention some examples.

Modern European breeds may be utilized only in the more intensive production systems with no important climatic constraints, but are totally unfit for the harsher environments. Criollo and zebu breeds are adapted to harsh environments because of their heat tolerance, low metabolic rate and disease and parasite resistance but have comparative low performance in improved environments. For a wide range of intermediate environments, complementarity between higly productive and adapted breeds results in superior overall performance of crossbreds.

Our own results on crossing red and white Holstein-Friesian (HF) x Guzera (G) in Brazil may be used as an example of this situation (Madalena, Lemos, Teodoro and Monteiro, in preparation). Milk yields, calving intervals and milk yields per day of calving interval of six crossbred groups (grades) are shown in Figures 1, 2, 3 The six HF grades were: 1/4, 1/2, 5/8, 3/4, 7/8 and > 31/32 or HF. The halfbreds were f1 out of G dams by HF sires. The 1/4 and 3/4 were first backcrosses of F1 dams to, respectively, G and HF sires. The 7/8 were second backcrosses to HF sires, and the 5/8 were obtained by inter se matings of 5/8 sires and dams.

Animals were produced at an experimental farm and distributed to 66 cooperator farmers at mean age 22 months, to measure dairy performance under a wide range of commercial practices. Cows were milked in the presence of the calf, which suckled after milking, according to the generalized practice in the region. However, no milk was intentionally left for the calves on recording days. Farms were grouped into high and low management level classes for purpose of analysis. Figure 1 is based on 921 observations and Figures 2 and 3 on 699.

Animal genetic resources Strategies for improved use and conservation

Figure 1 Lactation milk yields for six Holstein-Friesian x Guzera grades at high (*) and low (°) management levels.

Cunningham (1981) described the situation depicted in Figures 1 and 3 as a double interaction of additive breed difference and heterosis by environment, the additive effect becoming more important and heterosis less important as the level of environmental stress is reduced. Results from another farm with mean milk yield of 9.8 kg per day of calving interval indicated no differences in this trait for grades 3/4, 7/8 and HF in HF x Gir crosses (Madalena et al., 1983a). Cuban results are in agreement with this conclusion (Ponce de Leon et al. , 1982).

Animal genetic resources Strategies for improved use and conservation

Figure 2 Calving intervals for six Holstein-Friesian x Guzera grades at high (*) and low (°) management levels.

Animal genetic resources Strategies for improved use and conservation

Figure 3 Milk yield per day calving interval for six Holstein-Friesian x Guzera grades at high (*) and low (°) management levels.

Another example of genotype x environment interaction - perhaps an obvious one - is shown in Figure 4, where tick (Boophilus microplus)field burdens are shown for heifers of the six HF x G grades at 12 different occasions (Lemos et al ., 1985). At the low levels of infestation, differences between gradles in tick resistance were small, but they amplified at higher infestation levels. The economic values of the genetic tick resistance of zebus and Criollos (Ulloa and De Alba, 1957) depends on level of infestation, and would become irrelevant should ticks be controlled by pasture spelling (Sutherst et al., 1979) or, in the future, by vaccination (R.W. Sutherst, personal communication).

Animal genetic resources Strategies for improved use and conservation

Figure 4 Average tick count per heifer for six Holstein - Friesian: Guzera grades at twelve assessment occasions.


The HF x G results presented above belong to an experiment designed to compare the following crossbreeding strategies (Madalena, 1981):

  1. Grading up to HF (represented by the HF group).

  2. Creating a new breed (represented by the 5/8 group).

  3. Crisscrossing, or rotation in each generation of HF and G sires.

  4. Modified crisscrossing, repeating the HF sire breed for two generations, followed by G sires.

The latter procedure was suggested by Madalena (1981) to maintain the crossbred population at higher European grades (3/7, 5/7 and 6/7) than would be possible by crisscrossing (1/3 and 2/3). Mean performances for these two strategies were estimated from predicted means of the resulting grades under a breed additive difference and heterosis model (Dickerson, 1973). The results for milk yield per day of calving interval are shown in Table 1. F1 were taken as a reference because they had the highest performance of all six groups (Figure 3).


Crossbreeding strategy

Management level



F1 Crisscrossing









New breed



HF grades



Does not consider the purebred herd necessary to produce the F1.Continuous production of F1 heifers would not be practical on a regional scale, but it might be a good commercial proposition for individual farms in specific cases (Madalena, 1981).

Crisscrossing repeating the HF sire showed the second highest performance at both management levels (Table 1). Although the practical rule to apply this scheme is very simple, it requires the mating of females with a grade higher than 3/4 HF to the G bull and the other females to the HF bull, most farms would lack the organization required to keep track of which females should be mated to each sire breed. The scheme requires keeping at least one bull of each breed, which would not be economical for small herds, so it is better suited for artificial insemination in this case.

Dairy farmers unable to organize rotational crossing would still have two ways of maintaining the herd at intermediate grades:

  1. Periodic switching of the sire breed (Roger, 1973). This is the prevailing practice at dairy farms in southeast Brazil (Madalena, 1981). it has the disadvantage of producing a high proportion of extreme genotypes, with too much or too little zebu breeding.

  2. Use of crossbred bulls. Poor performance should be expected from inter se matings of unselected crossbred bulls and cows, as those used in our experiment. Negative effects of heterosis breakdown should be counteracted by selection for milk yield. Conventional progeny testing (using elite herds) would be quite possible in many Latin American countries, so that bulls for natural service could be produced by artificial insemination of the better cows with semen of proven bulls. In my opinion, difficulties for the implementation of a scheme of this sort lie more in poor organization of public institutions than on other factors.

Purebred European cattle may be the preferred option for the more intensive systems, particularly when climatic stress is attenuated by high altitude. Based on the results mentioned above, it would appear that purebred HF may be recommended for systems capable of sustaining lactation milk yields of at least 4000 kg, 10 kg per day of calving interval and calf mortality of 15 percent or less up to one year of age.

The elements for deciding on breeding strategy for beef cattle are quite different from those considered for dairy cattle. Practical problems to implement rotational crossing should not be very important as separate breeding herds may be kept for each sire breed (Madalena, 1977). On the other hand, reproductive efficiency of non-adapted European bulls may be seriously impaired in natural service under extensive conditions (Table 2), so the introduction of genes from these breeds would require the use of crossbred bulls (or artificial insemination when possible). However, heterosis breakdown seems to be less important for reproductive and growth traits than for milk yield and lactation length. Plasse (1983) indicated that zebu-Criollo rotational crossing or composite populations including also other European breeds are promising alternatives, although not enough information is available yet for a final comparison of breeding strategies.


Breed of bull

Number of females exposed

Calving percentage







Sta. Gertrudis



Holstein-Friesian 1/



Brown Swiss 1/






1/ Includes some artificial insemination.



CIAT. Extensive cattle production systems. R.R. Vera and C. Sere (eds.). CIAT, Cali.


Cubillos C Milk production in tropical areas. In: Sistemas de Producción con Bovinos en el Trópico Americano, L.P. de Vaccaro, (ed.), Uni-versidad Central de Venezuela. pp. 59-74.


Cunningham E.P. Selection and crossbreeding strategies in adverse environments. In: Animal Genetic Resources Conservation and Management, Animal Prod. Health Paper N2. 24, FAO, Rome. pp. 279-288.


De Alba J. and Kennedy, B.W. Milk production in the Latin American milking Criollo and its crosses with the Jersey. Anim. Prod., 41: 143-150.


Dickerson G.E. Inbreeding and heterosis in animals. Proc. Anim. Breed. Genet. Symp. in honour of Dr. J.S. Lush,. American Society of Animal Science and American Dairy Science Association, Champaign, I11. pp. 54-57.


Hernandez G. Colombian Criollo breeds for beef production. In: Recursos Genéticos Animales en America Latina, Estudio FAO: Producción y Sanidad Animal No 22. pp. 52-76.


Koger M. Practical crossbreeding plans. In: Crossbreeding Beef Cattle. Cunha T.J., Koger M. and Warnick A.C. (eds.) Gainesville, Univ. of Florida Press.


Lemos A.M., Teodoro R.L., Oliveira G.P. and Madalena F.E. Comparative performance of six Holstein-Friesian x Guzera grades in Brazil. 3. Burdens of Boophilus microplus under field conditions. Anim. Prod. 41: 187-191.


Madalena F.E. Crossbreeding systems for beef production in Latin America. Wld Anim. Rev. (FAO). 22: 27-33.


Madalena F.E. Crossbreeding strategies for dairy cattle in Brazil. Wld Anim. Rev. (FAO). 38: 23-30.


Madalena F.E., Valente J., Teodoro R.L. and Monteiro J.B.N. Milk yield and calving intervals of Holstein-Friesian and crossbred Holstein-Friesian x Gir cows in a high management level. Pesq. Agrop. Bras. 18: 195-200.


Madalena F.E., Teodoro R.L., Lemos A.M. and Barbosa R.T. Partial results of project "Crossbreeding strategies for dairy cattle in the southeast region". In Anais 1o Simp. Bras. Melhor. Genet, de Bovino Leiteiro nos Tropicos. EMBRAPA-CNPGL, Coronel Pacheco, MG, Brazil. pp. 43-69.


Muñoz H. and Deaton O.W. Milk production in crosses with Criollo cattle. In: Recursos Genéticos Animales, Estudio FAO: Producción y Sanidad Animal No 22., FAO Rome. pp. 40-47.


Paladines O. Cattle production systems in the American tropics. Proc. IV Wld Conf. Anim. Prod. II. pp. 49-72.


Plasse D. The possibility of genetic improvement of beef cattle in developing countries with particular reference to Latin America. In: Beef Cattle Production in Developing Countries, A.J. Smith (ed.) Edinburgh, pp. 308-331.


Plasse D. Use of Criollo cattle in crossbreeding programmes for beef production in Latin America. In: Recursos Genéticos Animales en America Latina, Estudio FAO: Producción y Sanidad Animal No 22, FAO, Rome. pp. 77-107.


Plasse D. Crossbreeding results from beef cattle in the Latin American tropics. Anim. Breed. Abstr. 51: 779-797.


Ponce de Leon R., De Bien R. and Caram N. Milk production in Holstein, 3/4. 1/4 and 5/8. 3/8 Holstein-Zebu heifers. Proc. 2nd Wld Congr. Genet, applied to Livestock Prod., VIII, 232-237, Madrid.


Razzok A.G., Leme P.R., Capelozza C.N.Z., Oliveira, Vilma I.,, Trovo I.B.V., Nardon R.F., Barbosa C, Pires F.L. and Nascimento J.Evaluation of mating of Nelore females with Nelore, Canchim, Santa Gertrudis, Holstein-Friesian, Brown Swiss and Caracu Bulls. 1.Performance to 18 months. Anais da XXII Reunião Anual da Soc.Brasileira de Zootecnia. pp. 219 (Abstr.).


Ruiz A. Dual purpose production systems for small farms. In: Sistemas de Producción con Bovinos en el Tropico Americano. L.P. de Vaccaro, (ed.). Universidad Central de Venezuela. pp. 137-158.


Seré C. and Vaccaro L. Milk production from dual-purpose systems in tropical Latin America. Paper No 29. Int. Conf. Milk Prod. Developing Countries, Edinburgh University.


Sutherst R.W., Norton G.A., Barlow N.D., Conway G.R., Birley M. and Comins H.N. Analysis of management strategies for cattle tick (Boophilus microplus) control in Australia.J. Appl. Ecology. 16: 359-382.


Ulloa G. and De Alba J. Resistance to external parasites of some cattle breeds. Turrialba. 7: 8-12.


Vaccaro L.P. The performance of dairy cattle breeds in tropical Latin America and programmes for their improvement. In: Dairy Cattle Breeding in the Humid Tropics. Haryana Agric. Univ., Hissar. pp.159-182.


Wilkins J.V., Pereyra G., Ali A. and Ayola S. Milk production in the tropical lowlands of Bolivia. Wld Anim. Rev. (FAO). 32: 25-32.

1/ Centro Nacional de Pesquisa - Gado de Leite, Caixo Postal 151, Coronel Pacheco 10 MG, Brazil.

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