Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Breeds for Changing Climates

There is no question that some breeds of cattle fit a particular environment better than do others. There is also no question in my mind that the climate is changing. So if you believe as I do, then the next question seems to be how do I adjust or change my operation to meet these changes. Do I change breeds? Which breed will do the best in this situation?

I do not believe it would serve any purpose to begin to name breeds and connect each with a particular climate situation. We all can think of extreme examples. For instance, if we were going to ranch in Alaska we would probably not use Brahma breeding.

It is a truth in the cattle business that there are more differences within a breed than there are between breeds. It has been proven over the years that cattle are very adaptable animals. As a matter of fact, cattle are found all over the world. But there is no question that some breeds are better suited for certain climate conditions.

Here’s What We Raise

We have over the years made good money with stockyard cattle. Locally born and bred stockers as well as breeding cows bought at the sale barn have been consistent moneymakers for us. On the other hand, I have seen cattle brought in to this part of the U.S. from other environments that are very different from the weather in south Louisiana, and those cattle do not do so well. It’s worthwhile to raise cattle that are adapted to where you are.

So should we change breeds and change nothing else to deal with changes in climate? Will that make a difference?

Now, I do not want to use this time to promote the breed that we have chosen and recently added to our operation: Red Devon. I’ve looked at Red Devon for decades, and we finally bought some for our farm. I will just say this and then move on. The Devon is very adaptive, and they are found in very diverse environments. They can be found in Brazil, Australia, Canada, Africa, the Middle East and in every part of the U.S. In fact, the Devon cattle have been in the U.S. since 1623. But most importantly for us, they are very, very productive on grass alone.  Every breed association can and will without a doubt make similar claims about their particular breed of choice.

Don chose to bring in Red Devon, a dream of his and Betty’s for years.

We went into Red Devon because that is where we had always dreamed of being, which is another story for another time. But, other than in the most extreme conditions, I am not convinced that the breed is as critical as the size of the animal. From a production cost and use of resources standpoint, size matters, and with a changing climate this may become most important.

What Your Cow Needs is Part of the Plan

If we take a year in the life of a brood cow, her dry matter forage intake will average about 2.5% or 3% of her body weight. While dry and pregnant, her daily intake need will be in the 1.5- 2.5% range. When she’s lactating, her need will be in the 2.5-3.5% range. Stockers and growing heifers’daily needs will be in the range of 2.5-3.5%. As to the water supply, a dry/pregnant cow needs on average about 11 gallons per day. A lactating cow will need on average 16 gallons per day, and stockers and growing heifers will need on average 9 gallons per day.

Now the question that y’all are asking now is what does this have to do with climate change. My answer would be that if we are anticipating climate change to present problems such as drought or super amounts of rain and snow, any of those conditions could create problems producing forages and maintaining a water supply. One of the logical solutions to me would be to own animals that require less feed and water.

In the End, It’s All About Management

I believe that a change in management strategy will be more beneficial to the average producer than to get too involved in changing breeds.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that a holistic approach is what will be needed to deal with climate change. We will need to look at what we have and figure out what is best to work with conditions that are changing. The same way we are thinking about what breed of cattle will work in a changing climate, we also look at our forages. For example, look at the way we chose the variety of ryegrass that is planted. I think that by now most of us in this part of the world have moved on from the Gulf variety because of its low cold tolerance. Some of the permanent grasses that require so much more water and fertilizer may not be the best choice either.  We need to do the same thing with our cattle, but it’s not necessarily by choosing one breed over another. More than that, it’s about managing to pick the right animals for the place we’re in.

Most of all, we will have to make sure that we are managing for those changes. If you feel it is necessary to change breeds to deal with climate change that is, to be sure, your choice. But I do not believe it will make much difference if you do nothing to adapt your whole operation to the change.

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Don Ashford
Don Ashford
My name is Don Ashford and my wife is Betty and we live in Ethel, LA. It would be impossible for me to write a bio about myself without including Betty in it. We have been together since high school. I was in the senior class of 1955 and she was in the class of 1957. Do the math. We have raised cattle since 1959 except for a little time that I spent with Uncle Sam. We have grazed stockers, owned several cow- calf herds and custom grazed cattle for other folks. I worked as a pipefitter for more than 25 years. Until we went into the dairy business in 1977 we were as most people down here part-timers or week-end ranchers. Later after we had learned enough about MIG to talk about it so that it would be understood by others we put together a pasture-walk group to introduce it to our friends and neighbors. We belong to more farm groups then we probably should but we get great joy working with other people. What makes us most proud are our son and daughter, our 5 grandkids and our 7 great-grand kids. It has been a hell of a trip so far, but we are not done yet.


  1. Don,

    Herding cattle here in West Central Texas in yet another drought. Seems as though I have spent more years working in a drought than not and the sad thing is it isn’t getting any easier. I have gradually worked on transitioning my herd to Brangus genetics for the drought tolerance. However even some within the breed are better than others at handling the heat and minimal grass situations. One thing I would add to your article is, how well will the breed sell and does it effect the price. It makes it difficult when your cattle buyers prefer a black calf and penalize others.

    • Don, Over the 50 plus years that I have been in this business I have never had animals that I could not sell at a profit because I never was to concerned with the market but about my cost of production. It is a fact I believe that very few cows die of old age in the US. The secret if there is one to be profitable is to keep production as low as possible.

      • I agree with managing your costs, its been years since I haven’t made a profit. But, I do believe in doing everything I can to maximize my profits which includes giving the market the animals that bring the highest prices. Much of the pre-conditioning I do prepares the animals for the premium sales which does just that. When I obtain the high dollar point for my calves weight class and spent the least amount possible to get there, I know I have done the best I could have done. Best of luck to you in your operation.

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