Dr. Joel Yelich is no stranger to conducting extensive research on cattle. So a year ago, he and the University of Florida began an extensive research project on Aubrac (pronounced Oh-Brack) cattle, an ancient breed of cattle that is growing in popularity in North and South America.
Q: The University of Florida is currently conducting a research project on a new breed of cattle called Aubrac. First, what are Aubrac cattle, and why have they caught your interest?
Yelich: “There are several attributes of the Aubrac breed that have caught my interest. First, they are moderate framed cattle with exceptional muscling, but also a maternal breed that has above average milk production. Second, they appear to be adaptable cattle, which are raised in both intensive production systems as well as extensive range conditions including mountainous and semi-desert environments. Third, they appear to be excellent foragers and efficient converters of the forage resource to live weight gain. Finally, although the scientific data is not clear on this point, the Aubrac breed may also have some disease resistance, which is consistent with their excellent pigmentation.”
Q: What have you learned about the breed since your research began?
Yelich: “I had the opportunity to travel to Europe in the fall of 2005 to see Aubracs in their native environment. The breed was developed in the mountainous and semi-desert regions of southcentral France. The people who raise Aubracs have developed this breed to be efficient and productive under grass conditions. There are no feed grains grown in this region. So they have capitalized on the breed's foraging abilities to produce a highly successful grass-fed called Fleur d'Aubrac. The phenotype of these cattle is very interesting. They are generally short, stout and deep-gutted, possessing tremendous thickness and muscle. Our first F1 Aubrac calves are being born this spring at the University of Florida, and we look forward to learning a great deal more about them in the years to come.”
Q: How are your structuring your research project to evaluate Aubrac-cross cattle for subtropical climates?
Yelich: “We are currently using Aubrac AI sires on Angus cattle as well as cattle with different percentages of Bos indicus breeding, including Brangus, ¼ Brahman ¾ Angus, and ½ Angus ½ Brahman. These genotypes would be consistent with the majority of genotypes represented in Florida cowherds. Eventually we hope to have some purebred Aubracs for comparison purposes. The subsequent steer progeny will be placed in our feedlot where they will be fed to slaughter to allow for carcass composition and muscle fiber analysis, and eventually sensory panel and shear test conducted on the end product. The heifer calves will be kept as replacements where they will be evaluated for all levels of production efficiency as they enter the breeding herd. We want to know how we can best optimize the use of Aubrac genetics in subtropical climates. We believe the Aubrac's light-color combined with its pigmentation, muscling and reproductive traits – and its potential resistance to trypanosomiasis – could be positive attributes for producers in this region wanting to improve the quality of their crossbreds.”
Q: How long do you expect the research to take, and what specific areas of beef production will you be evaluating?
Yelich: “In addition to analyzing the production, reproductive and disease-resistance capabilities of Aubracs in subtropical climates, there is also the potential to test our Aubrac and Aubrac-cross cattle through the new feeding test station located at our North Florida Research and Education Center in Marianna. This will allow us to measure individual animal's intakes and ultimately determine efficiency of gain. It will take approximately three to five years for us to evaluate for carcass composition and eating quality while probably 8 to 10 to thoroughly evaluate production characteristics.”
Q: In what ways can Aubracs complement or improve crossbreeding programs for southeastern producers?
Yelich: “There are probably two key areas where they could possibly fit. First, I see this breed as a way for producers to improve muscling and efficiency of gain characteristics. And second, as an integral part of developing a crossbred cow that is adaptable to the environment, capable of utilizing our low-quality forage, and wean a calf each year. Because of the extensive use of Bos indicus breeding in Florida cattle, our cattle tend to be light muscled. However, it is difficult to use some of the continental breeds in crossbreeding programs because mature size needs to be optimized. Therefore, the Aubrac breed may help our breeders in the Southeast by adding a significant amount of muscle without sacrificing extremes in growth or reproductive capabilities.”