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The influence of different levels of adjusted fat thickness (AFT) and HCW slaughter end points (covariates) on estimates of breed and retained heterosis effects was studied for 14 carcass traits from serially slaughtered purebred and composite steers from the US Meat Animal Research Center (MARC). Contrasts among breed solutions were estimated at 0.7, 1.1, and 1.5 cm of AFT, and at 295.1, 340.5, and 385.9 kg of HCW. For constant slaughter age, contrasts were adjusted to the overall mean (432.5 d). Breed effects for Red Poll, Hereford, Limousin, Braunvieh, Pinzgauer, Gelbvieh, Simmental, Charolais, MARC I, MARC II, and MARC III were estimated as deviations from Angus. In addition, purebreds were pooled into 3 groups based on lean-to-fat ratio, and then differences were estimated among groups. Retention of combined individual and maternal heterosis was estimated for each composite. Mean retained heterosis for the 3 composites also was estimated. Breed rankings and expression of heterosis varied within and among end points. For example, Charolais had greater (P 0.05) dressing percentages than Angus at the 2 largest levels of AFT and smaller (P 0.01) percentages at the 2 largest levels of HCW, whereas the 2 breeds did not differ (P ≥0.05) at a constant age. The MARC III composite produced 9.7 kg more (P 0.01) fat than Angus at AFT of 0.7 cm, but 7.9 kg less (P 0.05) at AFT of 1.5 cm. For MARC III, the estimate of retained heterosis for HCW was significant (P 0.05) at the lowest level of AFT, but at the intermediate and greatest levels estimates were nil. The pattern was the same for MARC I and MARC III for LM area. Adjustment for age resulted in near zero estimates of retained heterosis for AFT, and similarly, adjustment for HCW resulted in nil estimates of retained heterosis for LM area. For actual retail product as a percentage of HCW, the estimate of retained heterosis for MARC III was negative (−1.27%; P 0.05) at 0.7 cm but was significantly positive (2.55%; P 0.05) at 1.5 cm of AFT. Furthermore, for MARC III, estimates of heterosis for some traits (fat as a percentage of HCW as another example) also doubled in magnitude depending on different levels of AFT end point. Rational exploitation of breeds requires special attention to use of different end points and levels of those end points, mainly for fat thickness.