A multibreed cattle experiment involving 25 British breeds was set up to study genetic variation between breeds and genetic inter-breed relationships for a wide spectrum of traits in order to examine the problems of between-breed testing and selection. The experimental design is described and results on between-breed variation are presented for four traits.
All animals were housed indoors and from 12 weeks of age were given a single complete pelleted diet ad libitum through a system of Calan-Broadbent electronic gates. Females were mated to produce one purebred and three crossbred calves, which were reared to slaughter in order to measure the efficiency of the cow-calf unit of production.
Results based on a total of 292 animals, with an average of 12 per breed, are presented for body weight, cumulated voluntary food intake, daily weight gain and daily food intake over the age range from 12 to 72 weeks. The 25 breed-mean curves for body weight and cumulated food intake displayed a remarkably uniform pattern of rankings at all ages and the rankings were very similar for both traits.
The multibreed design used was effective in estimating between-breed variation as a proportion of total variation for the four traits examined. After approximately 1 year of age, the proportion of variation between breeds was approximately 0·70 for body weight and 0·60 for cumulated voluntary food intake. Changes in these traits could therefore be brought about more effectively by selection between breeds rather than within breeds. For average daily weight gain measured over 12-week intervals, between-breed selection was estimated to be most effective in the period of maximum growth rate between 6 and 9 months of age, when between-breed variation was 0·52 of the total. For average daily food intake, measured over 12-week intervals, between-breed selection was likely to be effective beyond 6 months of age, when the proportion of between-breed variation plateaued at 0·48.
At all ages, the coefficient of genetic variation between breeds was approximately 0·14 for body weight and daily gain, and remarkably constant at approximately 0·12 for both daily and cumulated food intake. It is suggested that, for growth and intake traits, the genetic variances within and between breeds remain proportional to each other at all ages.