We chose the Irish Angus as our sire and dame because it was the only breed we could find that had original Angus grass-fed and finished genetics. We were almost too late, since the British Isles as well as Europe had generally followed the American standard of large, long and lean Angus breeding for size.
The American cattle industry in the modern era has bred cattle for size, believing the bigger the better because the mothers would raise larger calves for market. Of course that is true - big mommas and dads make big offspring as a general rule. And in a auction market where price is paid by the pound with less emphasis on the quality, and no one piece of beef or pork can be traced from the consumer back to the rancher, weight is the thing that matters. Ranchers did the right “survival” thing; they bred for size.
The bigger question looks behind the assumption and asks whether it is really more rewarding to do so. So the University of Georgia did a study on the efficiency of cows by size. In short, they were trying to determine how the weight of the mother correlated with the weight of her calf when weaned. Is it really better to upsize your herd? Georgia’s approach to the study was this: what percent of the mother’s body weight would the calf achieve at weaning time? And did that percent vary depending on the weight classes of cattle? The results favored the small and medium sized mother cow over the large in terms of the weight of the calf as a percentage of its mother’s weight. The largest mother cows at 1600 pounds weaned calves that were only 37% of their mother’s weight while the smallest at 900 pounds (like the Irish Angus) weaned calves at 53% of their mother’s weight. Converted to pounds, the large mother weaned a 592 pound calf while the small mother weaned a 477 pound calf. Wait, you say, you still get an extra 115 pounds from the large mother. True. But assuming that the relationship between size is approximately proportionate to the amount of pasture consumed by each, then you see the efficiency of the small mother cow. You can feed 3 small cows for every 2 large cows. You will gain 1,670 pounds of calf weight from the 3 small cows while you are gaining 1,154 pounds of calf from the 2 large cows, a 516 pound advantage from the more efficient 900 pound mothers.
At Jolie Vue, we have a herd of 24 small and medium frame mother cows — an annual 3,538 pound advantage over a large frame herd assuming that 3 small cows will consume no more grass than two large ones. That ain’t chopped liver, folks.