Beefmaster cattle are the first American composite breed (combination of three or more breeds). They were developed by Tom Lasater in south Texas, beginning in 1931. The Beefmaster breed was recognized in by the USDA in 1954, and today Beefmaster Breeders United is the fifth-largest breed registry in the United States.
Beefmasters are a composite breed made up of roughly one-half Bos Taurus (hereford and Shorthorn) and one-half Bos Indicus (Nelore from Brasil, Gir & Guzerat from India). Tom Lasater closed his herd in 1937, and no outside genetics have been introduced into the Foundation Herd since that time. Intense selection for economically important traits over the last 70 plus years has resulted in a homozygous beef breed that has locked in the explosive growth potential of a hybrid.
The thing that probably most differentiates Beefmaster cattle from other breeds is the Six Essentials, which were the founding selection principles on which the breed was formed: Disposition, Fertility, Weight, Conformation, Hardiness and Milk Production (see sidebar at right). Lasater's concept was that you select for cattle only based on these six traits of economic relevance, to the exclusion of many traits that other breeds have expended genetic energy on like color pattern, horns, height, etc. This unique approach is why Beefmasters are known by the slogan "The Profit Breed."
Lasater applied the Six Essentials in a number of ways that were completely revolutionary in his time. He began individually weighing his calves in 1936, at a time when cattle were sold by the head. He required heifers to breed at 14 months and to calve as two-year-olds in a 90-day season at a time when many ranches left the bulls out year-round. Perhaps most importantly, he culled every cow that for any reason did not wean a merchantable calf every year.
This revolutionary new way of looking at and selecting cattle gave rise to a breed that is unique in many ways. The breed is recognized as a "Dual Purpose" breed, meaning Beefmasters blend strong maternal traits with excellent growth and carcass abilities. The cattle are heat, drought and insect resistant. They are moderate in size, and while there is no set color pattern in the breed, they are generally light red to dark red and some will have white mottle on their faces.
Lasater required Beefmaster cows to calve annually.
The females are excellent mothers, raising a heavy calf each year, and the bulls are aggressive breeders. Beefmasters are intelligent, gentle cattle that are truly a pleasure to work with. While all these traits make Beefmaster cattle pleasurable and profitable to work with, perhaps the thing about them that has most driven their enormous popularity throughout the world is their ability to do well in a variety of difficult environments with a minimum of attention. As Dr. Jim Sanders of Texas A&M said: "Beefmaster are the all-purpose breed.
If you are a grass-based rancher who likes thrifty cattle that raise profitable calves in any climate with a minimum of attention, Beefmaster is the breed for you!
For a complete history of the creation of the Beefmaster breed, please see The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Raising.
Beefmasters are completely unique in that they are the only beef breed with a guiding production philosophy. These principles are called the Six Essentials, and they give us road map by which to maximize production efficiency and improve our cattle. We talk about the Six Essentials a lot, but what do they really mean?
Disposition—Gentle cattle are cheaper to manage, sell better, breed better, feed better and calve easier.
Fertility—This is the first among equals and the cornerstone of the philosophy. Cows that do not have a calf every single year are not economically viable.
Weight—Of obvious importance—ranchers sell pounds. Weight is another highly heritable trait. We select for cattle that produce optimum (not necessarily maximum) weight with minimum input.
Conformation—This refers to the visual appraisal of a live animal with regard to carcass merit. We select for long, trim, well-muscled bulls, and smooth, feminine cows that meet industry demands.
Hardiness—It is critical for cattle to be able to thrive under tough conditions. Beefmasters excel in calf livability, low death loss, low maintenance costs and resistance to disease and parasites.
Milk Production—Next to genetics, milk production is the single most important factor in weight. When asked to describe the perfect cow, Tom Lasater said, "She'll look like a cow that gives a hell of a lot of milk."