Revolutionary cattle breeding: helped make Alberta beef a world leader


Source: University of Alberta

Roy Berg’s controversial cattle breeding research revolutionized Alberta’s beef industry. His research was controversial in 1955, because no one promoted cross-breeding beef cattle anywhere in the world. But Berg knew beef production would dramatically increase with hybrid vigour and cross-breeding, and each generation would then be stronger and more productive. Ten years later, he proved it, when his research at UAlberta led to a 40% increase in cattle productivity, helping make Alberta a world leader in beef production.

Science behind the belief and the beef
An animal geneticist, Berg knew that selective cross-breeding-passing on desirable traits from a variety of breeds and capitalizing on hybrid vigour-could improve production. But, in 1955 Berg’s idea caused uproar in Alberta-ranchers believed crossbreeding would ruin their herds. Opposition to his research was so strong producers dubbed his cross-bred cattle ‘Berg’s bastards’ and ‘Roy Burgers.’ Newspaper editorials denounced his research-some cattle producers even tried to have him fired from the university.

One world’s most successful cattle breeding research operations
Berg bred two hybrid lines-the first was 30% more productive, the second was 40%. Within 10 years, Berg’s hybrid cattle outperformed the purebred herd. Thanks to Berg’s research, UAlberta’s Kinsella Ranch became one of the most successful cattle breeding research operations in the world. It took Berg 10 – 15 years to convince the cattle industry of the merits and economic advantages of hybrid breeding. But eventually, with overwhelming evidence, cross-breeding became the norm in Alberta’s beef cattle industry.

Value of beef to Alberta and Canada
Today, Alberta is Canada’s largest cattle producing province and produces almost 50% of all Canada’s beef. Beef cattle production is Alberta’s largest agricultural sector and contributes $12.7 billion to Alberta’s economy. (Alberta Beef). In 2014, the cattle industry contributed $18.7 billion to Canada’s GDP. (CDN Cattlemen’s Association).


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