Author: Department Head and Range Management Specialist, Department of Extension Animal Sciences and Natural Resources, New Mexico State University.
Most breeds of beef cattle have a fixed color pattern that is characteristic for that breed because of previous selection. For example, all Hereford cattle have a red body color with a white face, all Charolais are white, and all Red Poll are red. However, some other breeds may have more than one basic body color, such as red or black Angus, and white, red, or roan Shorthorn. Still other breeds have multiple colors that are unpredictable; for example, spotting, brindling, or solid colors in Longhorn.
A knowledge of the genetic aspects of hair color and experience allow one to predict, with some degree of accuracy, the color pattern to expect among calves resulting from crossbreeding. This fact sheet is to serve only as a guide. The predictions listed here give only the major expected colors. There will be some exceptions because of gene segregation.
Several of the available cattle breeds are categorized by basic body color in Table 1. These breeds are identified with the color pattern that is most common in each breed. For example, some Simmental cattle have color markings similar to those of Herefords; however, the majority have extra white that is non-predictable in terms of pattern. Thus, Simmental are categorized as spotted cattle.
Table 2 illustrates the color pattern expected in progeny resulting from the matings of bulls and cows of various colors.
Table 1. Basic Body Colors of Cattle and the Breeds Identified with Those Colors
|Black||Red||White or Cream||Light Hair Color with Dark Pigment Skins||Spotted||Mixed Colors|
|Brangus||Devon||Charolais||Brown Swiss||Hays Converter||Braford|
|Welch Black||Polled Hereford||Aquitaine||Murray Grey||Normande|
Table 2. Expected Color Patterns when Crossing Breeds of Various Colors
|Black||Red||White||Light Hair with Dark Skin||Spotted||Mixed Colors|
|Black||Black||Black||Black-smoky||Black—some brindling||Black—few spots||Mostly black|
|Red||Red||Red-roan||Red—some brindling||Red or black— some spots||Some red— mostly mixed|
|White||White||White-grey||Mostly spotted— some white||Mixed|
|Light Hair with Dark Skin||Grey||Grey— some spotted||Mixed|
|No Fixed Color||Mixed|
Certainly, one of the strongest arguments for crossbreeding is the use of the crossbred cow. It has been illustrated many times that the average crossbred cow is more productive than the average straightbred cow. However, as we increase the number of breeds involved in crosses, we decrease our ability to maintain complete color control in the offspring. Table 3 illustrates the expected color pattern in offspring from the three-way crossbreds utilizing the F1 cow and straightbred bulls.
Table 3. Expected Offspring Color Patterns (From a Three-Way Cross Using the F1 Cow)
|Black X Black||Black||Black||Mostly black||Mostly black||Mostly black|
|x Red||Black||Black & red||Black & red||Variable||Mixed|
|x White||Black||Black & red||Black-smokey||Black-mixed||Mixed|
|x Spot||Black||Black & red & spots||Black-mixed||Black & spots||Mixed|
|x Mixed||Black||Black & mixed||Black-mixed||Mixed||Mixed|
|Red X White||Black||Mostly red||Mixed||Mixed||Mixed|
|x Spot||Mostly black||Mostly red||Mixed||Mostly spots||Mixed|
|x Mixed||Mostly black||Mostly red||Mixed||Mixed||Mixed|
|White X White||Diluted black||Red-roan||White||Spots-white||Mixed|
|x Spot||Mostly black||Red-spot||White-spot||Spots-mixed||Mixed|
|x Mixed||Mostly black||Mixed||Mixed||Mixed||Mixed|
|Spot X Spot||Spots—mostly black||Red-spot||Spot||Spot||Mixed|
|x Mixed||Spots—mostly black||Spot-mixed||Spot||Spot||Mixed|
|Mixed X Mixed||Brindling—mostly black||Mixed||Mixed||Mixed||Mixed|
On central markets, cattle are frequently sold with little, if any, information made available about breed or performance. Most buyers will estimate performance (gain, yield, liveability, etc.) in relation to the reputation of the breed; thus, they look for signs that indicate a certain breed or breeds making up crossbred cattle. Some breeds are prone to produce calves that have certain distinct color markings, such as white-face, droopy ears, brindling, skunk-backs, and white stocking legs. Table 4 lists certain breeds that, when crossed with other breeds, frequently produce calves with distinct characteristics. Not all calves carrying this breed make-up will possess these characteristics, but many will have them.
Table 4. Breeds that Commonly Leave Specific Color Markings Suggesting Their Presence in Crossbred Calves
|White-Face||Brindling||Skunk-Backs||Stocking Legs||Droopy Ear and Navel|
|Polled Hereford||Brown Swiss||Pinzgauer||Beef Friesian||Brangus|
|Simmental||Brahman||Maine Anjou||Santa Gertrudis|
Because of gene segregation, there are nearly always exceptions to the rule. Table 5 gives some generalizations to consider when attempting to set up a breeding program in which color is important. Producers who are unconcerned with color should select superior breeding stock from breeds that excel in economically important traits and blend those breeds together into a breeding program to allow maximum profit.
Table 5. Generalizations to Remember if Trying to Create a Certain Color Pattern
|Things to do:|
1. Want to create a black baldy?
2. Only want one body color from three-breed cross program?
3. Color not important?
The opportunity to combine desirable characteristics of two or more breeds (breed complementarity) and increase performance due to hybrid vigor (heterosis) makes crossbreeding a very important mating system for commercial cow herds. Experimental evidence strongly indicates total pounds of calf produced per cow in the breeding herd can be increased 15 to 25 percent in well defined and executed crossbreeding schemes.
This guide provides information about setting up crossbreeding systems that should, in addition to capitalizing on breed complementarity and hybrid vigor, maintain a uniform color pattern for ease of selling the offspring. Color is a highly heritable trait, so it can be selected for or against. In some breeds and breed crosses, the color is highly predictable; however, in other breeds and breed crosses, color is highly unpredictable. For producers who market cattle in groups, color can be an economically important trait.
Published originally as Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Fact Sheet F-3154, Color Patterns in Crossbred Beef, by John Evans.
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Reprinted and electronically distributed June 2009, Las Cruces, NM.