Month: December 2018

EPD Effectivity Proof

Association News: Unique genetics project demonstrates effectiveness of EPDs, DNA testing

By – WLJ

More than 40 calves were produced from one cow, all in the name of genetic research. That’s something you don’t see every day.

This research, dubbed the LiveWiRED project, is a cooperative effort between the Junior Red Angus Association of America and the Red Angus Foundation, Inc. The plan is to evaluate the real-world performance of calves compared to their sires’ EPDs for growth and carcass traits. A host of data has been collected on the calves, including DNA profile information, which will be used to generate a complete “genetic trail,” tracking from parental EPDs to progeny DNA and finally the actual performance of those progeny.

The research is unique in that a single Gelbvieh cow, “Penny,” served as the donor female for the entirety of the project. With only one dam for all LiveWiRED calves, sire genetics are isolated and progeny performance on the project’s different Red Angus sires can be accurately compared to their EPDs.

Three of the Red Angus sires used in the project ranked high for growth and carcass-value traits, while the other two sires ranked at the lower end of the bell curve. Throughout the duration of the project, the two sire groups will be compared in various ways and, in some cases, calves by individual sires will also be compared to each other in order to determine if observed performance differences match those predicted by the sires’ EPDs.

Born in August 2017, the LiveWiRED calves are now long yearlings and are being finished in a Kansas feedyard with a projected slaughter date of March 1, 2019. Prior to entering the feedyard, DNA and weaning weight information were collected for analysis and Junior Red Angus (JRA) members are excited to utilize this data for the next phase of this three-year endeavor.

Adjusted weaning weights between the two sires with the most progeny in the study (one high in growth and the other low) were different by 28 pounds (P<0.01), favoring the high-growth sire. Also, of note, the entirety of the high-growth-sired calves outgained their low-growth-sired counterparts by 0.4 pounds per day during their first 71 days in the feedyard.

A positive correlation between phenotypic and genomic data, as compared to EPDs, was found when analyzing the weaning weight and DNA information. These results provide positive reassurance to the initial goal of the project—proving the accuracy of EPDs.

As the calves continue to grow, their performance in the finishing and carcass stage of production will be valuable information as the LiveWiRED project nears completion.

JRA members have been benefiting from this project since its inception in January 2016 by observing real-life aspects of beef production in coordination with the growth stage of the LiveWiRED calves. The project serves as a valuable educational tool for all ages of beef producers and will continue to yield valuable educational results. A final research report detailing all the findings of the project will be published in the second quarter of 2019.

For more information on the JRA or the LiveWiRED project, visit

Buying A New Herd Bull? Do These 4 Steps First

W. Mark Hilton 2 | Feb 29, 2012

Bull purchases represent a significant investment in a beef herd. Whether that investment results in a “nest egg” or a “goose egg” depends highly on a bull buyer’s preparation. Let’s discuss some basics.

Step 1: Don’t buy a new disease. While I’ve never had a producer intentionally bring a new cattle disease onto the premises, in reality this is how most new diseases enter a herd. Be sure the bull is a virgin or is tested for trichomoniasis if you live in a “trich” area. Bear in mind that trich is a devastating disease that is spreading into areas where it once was either absent or rare.

What about Johne’s disease, persistent infection with bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) and campylobacter? Ask the supplier if he’s ever had a positive diagnosis and, most importantly, get permission for your herd health veterinarian to call the seller’s veterinarian to discuss the health of the seller’s herd.

Be sure to ask specific questions about diseases you want to avoid buying. If the seller doesn’t allow this communication, I’d look elsewhere for genetics.

Step 2: Buy genetics that fit your herd goals. If you’re using bulls on virgin heifers, calving ease is a high priority. Using across-breed EPDs (Angus base), select a bull below +1 for BW EPD for a high likelihood of unassisted calvings.

For bulls to be used on cows, you should buy a bull with growth, maternal and carcass traits that fit your goals. I see many producers still looking primarily at calving ease when selecting a bull for cows. This is counterproductive as you’re likely limiting the growth of the calves and decreasing pounds sold.

As a general rule, low-birth weight EPD bulls tend to be lower in weaning and yearling EPD. Buy a bull for cows that will improve hybrid vigor (which improves health), growth and carcass.

We all want cattle that will thrive in their given environment; a calf with poor vigor at birth starts life with a huge black mark. Calves should be born quickly and stand to nurse on their own within 30 minutes. Anything less isn’t acceptable, and such calves have a greater chance of morbidity, which can be a tremendous labor issue. Ask about calf vigor before you buy.

Step 3: Quarantine for 30 days. Every farm or ranch has pathogen exposure and most animals never show clinical signs of sickness. Their immune system fights off the disease and you never even know they were exposed.

However, take that “normal” animal, stress him, and put him right in with your cows with their normal pathogen load and the new bull gets sick. Thus, 30 days of quarantine is a small price to pay for improved health.

Your herd health veterinarian will likely recommend a vaccination and parasite-control protocol during quarantine based on the bull’s health history and diseases common in your locale. Call your herd health veterinarian to get advice on these preventive health procedures.


Posted by Travis Meteer

Pedigree, scrotal measurement, EPDs, accuracies, actual weights, $ values, DNA tests…. and you haven’t even looked at the bull yet. There is no doubt that sire selection can be a daunting task, but economic indexes may be the tool to help simplify your selection process.

Economic indexes are a collection of EPDs that are weighted depending on their economic importance in a given scenario. The goal of these index values is to simultaneously emphasize economically-relevant traits while using a multi-trait selection approach.

Often these indexes are not fully understood and the name of the index doesn’t always accurately portray the goal of the index. Read these descriptions carefully so you can accurately use these selection tools to improve the profitability of your cattle.


Weaned Calf Value ($W)

An index that is designed for cattlemen that primarily sell calves at weaning. This index also assumes that replacement heifers are retained. EPDs for birth weight, weaning weight, milk, and mature cow size are focused on. Lower birth weights, heavier weaning weights, and lower mature cow size are desirable. Milk production is weighted both positively and negatively as it directly impacts calf weaning weights, but also increases cow maintenance requirements.

Feedlot Value ($F)

This is an index that focuses on post-weaning characteristics. Yearling weight is the driving factor in this index. It is useful for cattlemen marketing fed cattle on a live basis.

Grid Value ($G)

This index puts focus on carcass traits. If you want to emphasize improving both quality and yield grade in your herd, this is useful tool.

Beef Value ($B)

This is a combination of $F and $G, but is not a simple addition of the two. $B is a terminal index. Emphasis is put on yearling weight and carcass traits. Significant selection pressure on $B index can result in selecting for a larger mature cow size. If replacement heifers are retained, you should not apply blind selection pressure to this index. $B is not a comprehensive index, which I frequently hear it misrepresented as. It is a terminal index.


Baldy Maternal Index (BMI$)

A maternal index that assumes a production system based on Hereford x Angus cross females. The index places positive weight on calving ease, scrotal circumference, and weaning weight. A slight negative weight is placed on YW in effort to promote early growth to keep cow size manageable. Positive weight is also placed on marbling, more so than REA. The index assumes cull progeny are marketed in a branded beef program. This is a maternal-focused index that also places selection pressure on carcass quality.

Certified Hereford Beef (CHB$)

A terminal index that targets the CHB market. Slight pressure is put on calving ease, positive weight is put on weaning weight, yearling weight, and carcass traits. This index is useful for ranchers producing bulls for a terminal breeding program. It also has value for selecting cattle that will be more profitable in the feedlot. No replacement females are retained in this scenario, thus no selection pressure is put on fertility.


All-Purpose Index (API)

An index that assumes bulls will be used on cows and heifers. It assumes heifers will be retained as replacements. All other progeny will be sold on a grade and yield grid based system. This index is designed to assist producers in selecting cattle that will maximize revenue from fed cattle while maintaining maternal attributes in replacement heifers.

Terminal Index (TI)

No smoke and mirrors here. This index assumes all progeny will be sold grade and yield. Used for selecting bulls to be used on cows only.

In conclusion, sire selection sets the stage for your future in the cattle business. Progeny from the bulls you choose today will determine your reputation, your profitability, and your brand. Understanding economic index values can result in more profitable cattle for your operation as well as your customer base.

Bull Buyers Guide

Posted: January 16th, 2017 || by Travis Meteer, University of Illinois, Beef Extension Educator

Are you sifting through stacks of bull sale catalogs looking for your next bull? While bull selection can be a daunting task, your choice will impact your herd for years to come. Thus, taking some time to think about what you need from your next herd sire is important.

Here are some points to emphasize when it comes to bull selection.

Know your market. Understand what traits are value added-traits for your market. One of the best parts about the cattle industry is the different ways producers achieve their goals. While selling calves at weaning into the commodity market is the majority, some cattlemen are marketing in very creative ways. Local freezer beef, retained ownership, alliances, branded beef programs, video sales, or fitting the production environment to a consumer demanded practice are all ways farmers are adding value to their calves. Your bull selection should be based on traits that are profitable in your market.

Don’t sacrifice functional traits or adaptability to your production environment. It is really easy to get caught up in the data, but remember these critters need to be sound and function in the pasture. Good feet and legs, a strong libido, and docility are all imperative. Masculinity, big testicles, and a tight sheath are good phenotypic indicators of the right kind. Buying bulls that are raised in similar conditions to your farm is preferred. You can buy someone else’s genetics, but you can’t buy their management.

Require a passed BSE (Breeding Soundness Exam) and farm herd health protocols. I also suggest a quarantine period for new purchases. A minimum of two weeks will allow time for potential pathogens to break without exposing your herd. Lots of times cattle coming from a sale have experienced elevated stress. It is important to keep them on good feed, in a clean pen, and allow the quarantine period to run its course.

Identify and understand Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) and phenotypes that signify value added traits you are seeking. Calving ease (CE) is an important and valuable trait. Sometimes when talking to producers I hear them stressing CE and birth weight (BW). BW is an indicator trait for CE, but you don’t get paid for light birth weight calves. You get paid by not having to invest time and labor in pulling calves. So, avoid putting too much downward pressure on BW, especially if the bull will breed cows. Another mistake I see is purchasing low BW bulls for cows. This is not necessary. Many times you can purchase a bull with average or better calving ease for cows at a discount to “heifer bulls” with comparable growth. Smooth, flat shouldered bulls with decent CE EPDs are good value bulls for breeding mature cows.

If you sell your calves at weaning through the sale barn and keep your own replacements, traits of priority should be CE, heifer pregnancy, stay-ability, and weaning weight. Selecting for more yearling weight, too much milk or too little milk, or carcass traits are much less important in this scenario. If you retain-ownership in your cattle through the feedlot and market to the packer, then yearling weight and carcass traits become more relevant to your bottom line. Your ultimate goal should be to produce the most profitable product, thus seek traits that add value without increasing cost of production over the value of the trait.

Utilize appropriate multiple trait selection indexes. Find the sweet spot/ profitable window in milk, YW, and carcass EPDs. Avoid putting too much emphasis on one trait. Nearly all breeds now have dollar index values that help put economics to trait selection. These can be extremely effective tools if the index scenario matches your operation. Weaned Calf Value ($W) is a dollar value used by the Angus breed. It is an index that is designed for cattlemen that primarily sell calves at weaning. This index also assumes that replacement heifers are retained. EPDs for birth weight, weaning weight, milk, and mature cow size are focused on. Lower birth weights, heavier weaning weights, and lower mature cow size are desirable. Milk production is weighted both positively and negatively as it directly impacts calf weaning weights, but also increases cow maintenance requirements. A more detailed description of economic selection indexes is available on my blog

Don’t be fooled by index names. Beef Value ($B) is a terminal index. It is a great tool for cattlemen that are not keeping replacements. This index will increase profitability of cattle in the feedlot and on the grid. Unfortunately, I have heard $B referred to as a comprehensive EPD several times which it is not. It is vital to understand that $B is a terminal index. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The breeder or an Extension specialist will be able to help explain the numbers.

Demand higher accuracy for traits. Technologies are available for seedstock producers to increase the accuracy of EPDs on yearling bulls. Genomic-enhanced EPDs result in less risk, less change, and more predictability in how a yearling bull will sire. A bull buyer can feel more confident now than ever in EPDs when they are backed by genomic testing.

Heterosis. Crossbreeding systems are hard to deploy and maintain in small herds. However, leaving hybrid vigor on the table in a commercial herd is a big loss. Otherwise lowly heritable traits like reproduction, health, and cow longevity are best improved by crossbreeding. Crossbred cows and maternal heterosis is a key to profitability on commercial cow/calf operations. Studies have shown net profit per cow is increased by $75/cow/year as a result of maternal heterosis.

Buy the right size, type, and demand quality. I would compare this to buying a car or truck. If you have little money for gas (feed), then don’t buy a gas (feed) guzzler. Buy a bull that fits your cow herd. Your cows will tell you the right size and milk production for your management. If they come up open… they are not the right size. Now, you also want a bull that is the right type. You don’t buy a fancy sports car for a work vehicle do you? So why buy a fancy, sexy bull to produce working kind cattle? To me there is a difference in fancy and quality. I suggest you demand quality. Select a product that will last and hold value. Look for signs that the breeder stands behind their product. That is a good sign of quality.

Seek value when buying a bull. The lowest priced bull is seldom the best valued. If you find a bull that has the traits you are looking for… buy him. Set a budget, but understand it is often hard to find everything you are looking for. Bulls with the traits you are seeking can add value to your cattle in a hurry. They can add far more value than a cow. The bull you buy this year will impact your herd for the next 5 years with his calves, but his daughters will impact your herd for the next 20 years. Make a good investment. Buy a bull that adds value to your calves and your cowherd.

EPDs: sorting beef from bull

Tom Hook | May 01, 2000

Technology has made genetic predictions (EPDs) possible on traits that animal breeders and scientists could only once dream about. But, a beef producer can never focus on the “EPD of the year,” jumping from fad to fad.

Likewise, producers should never lose sight of basic breeding principles that include a primary focus on the entire genetic puzzle, not just a piece of it. This holistic approach means genetic progress for individual traits will be slower than selecting for single traits. But, multi-trait selection allows producers to avoid the extremes and negative financial consequences that often accompany a walk on the edge of naturally occurring biologic limits.

The Blue Collar Approach Once breeding goals are established and breeds selected, evaluate the potential seedstock suppliers. As an example, assign each one a score for integrity and another for their commitment to keeping accurate records. After all, accurately reporting birth weight, calving ease and growth performance in unbiased contemporary groups is essential to genetic evaluation.

Think of the contemporary groups and resulting performance ratios as the cornerstone and bricks to building accurate genetic parameters (EPDs). Honest reporting is the mortar that holds it all together. Bottom line, EPDs for the various traits can be only as accurate as the data that has been recorded.

So, get to know seedstock suppliers and their management practices. Ask to see their ratios, the size of their contemporary groups (the effective progeny number, or how much competition an individual beat to earn his superior numbers).

Also, ask to see the lifetime dam production records for the bulls you’re interested in. Be sure the seedstock producers you’re dealing with are as interested in your bottom line as their own.

Once you start sorting individual bulls, comparing a bull’s percentile ranking within a breed for a given trait can be more useful than comparing the actual numeric EPDs. The numeric EPD of an individual changes as more performance data on his progeny are reported, reflecting “real-time” genetic evaluation. But, that number doesn’t tell the prospective buyer anything about how the bull ranks genetically within the respective breed compared to other bulls.

With that in mind, rather than selecting bulls based on their specific numeric EPD – for instance, a +65-lb. yearling growth – switch the focus to bulls that are in the upper 25% of the breed for yearling growth, and let the numeric EPDs fall where they may. Common sense suggests using breeds or composites known to excel in the traits you’re seeking to improve, and to select bulls that are in the top quartile (upper 25% or higher) of that respective gene pool.

In fact, when you start thinking in terms of percentile rankings rather than the numeric EPDs, you can easily construct a useful multiple-trait selection index, a power index of sorts. Just take the sum total of the percentile ranks for each trait on a given bull and divide by the number of traits.

For easy illustration, a bull in the top quartile of his breed for birth, weaning, yearling and milking ability would have a combined power index of 25 [(25+25+25+25)#4]. A bull that only ranked in the top half of the breed in each trait would have a power index of 50. A bull with a power index of 25 or less is genetically excellent in multiple traits.

Across-Breed EPDs Across-breed EPDs are helpful in assessing the comparative strengths and weaknesses of different breeds. But, caution must be used in comparing the numeric EPDs of different breeds unless proper conversion tables are used, or the EPDs are generated by a multi-breed statistical model like that used by the American Simmental Association.

Next, keep your environmental resources and marketing options in mind. For instance, if you’re raising and selling bred replacement females, your selection criteria will be far different than your neighbor who is using the same breed ingredients, but is involved in a terminal breeding program. Select genetics that meet your production goals relative to your available labor, management and feed resources.

Finally, keep the destination in mind. Today, marketing grids and alliances are as plentiful as EPDs. These information and marketing systems offer producers an opportunity to exploit the value of their genetics. But to do so, you have to know what you have to start with, what you’re selecting for, and how valuable that is compared to the available opportunity.

Tom Hook and his family operate Hook Farms, a Simmental seedstock operation in Tracy, MN. For more information about Hook Farms, call 507/629-4946.

Preparation Is Key When Buying Bulls

Bob Weaber, Kansas State University Extension Cow-Calf Specialist | Jan 06, 2012

Preparedness is the key to making an informed purchase when buying a bull. Make sure you know what traits you would like to improve in your herd and understand the EPDs important to you.

As the winter and spring bull-buying season approaches, seedstock purchasers should do their homework to help ensure their bull purchases meet their needs. Preparedness is the key to making an informed purchase. Before you crack open the sale catalogs, there are few resources and skills you should possess.

First, make sure you understand the use of Expected Progeny Differences (EPD) and selection indexes. While EPDs aren’t the only selection information you should consider, they are the most effective tools available to describe the genetic differences between animals within and across herds. EPDs are much more effective genetic predictors than actual or adjusted performance records.

If an EPD is available for a trait, it should be used instead of an animal’s own performance record for that trait. The EPD removes age and environmental effects that can bias a decision based on actual or adjusted performance records. Use Calving Ease (CE or Calving Ease Direct: CED) EPD, rather than birth weight (BW) EPD, to select bulls that minimize calving difficulty. Calculations for CE EPD include BW data and other sources of information that affect dystocia. The CE EPD is a much better tool to manage calving difficulty than either BW EPD or an animal’s own BW record.

Not all EPDs are the same, so make sure you know the appropriate information for the breed of cattle you’re purchasing. For a useful reference on EPDs and other genetic topics see the Beef Sire Selection Manual ( Obtain the breed average EPDs and a percentile rank table available from the most current genetic evaluation for the breed of interest. Percentile rank tables can be found on most breed association websites. These tools will enable you to compare the relative genetic merit of individual animals to other animals in the breed.

Second, make sure you know what traits you would like to improve in your herd. What breed(s) fit in your mating system? If you are using a crossbreeding system, make sure the breed you selected fits your objectives. Other factors to consider are: keeping replacement heifers, endpoints for progeny marketing (weaning, back-grounded or in the beef).

Assessment of these factors will help point you to the best breed for your needs and the combinations of maternal/growth/carcass traits that best fit your operation and environment. Be sure to apply selection to traits that have direct economic importance in your production system.

Third, set a realistic budget for bull purchases. Like most things in life, price is driven by quality. Evaluation of a seedstock supplier’s prior year sale averages will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of purchase costs. That said, prices over the last 12 months indicate that seedstock purchases are substantially more expensive, some as much as $500 more, than in previous years. The increased bull cost is largely driven by increased development costs incurred by seedstock producers. The added purchase cost makes it even more important to make a well thought-out decision.

Fourth, get to know your seedstock supplier and make sure they know your operational goals. Seek out recommendations from your supplier well in advance of the sale. Once you receive the sale catalog, make a short list of bulls (6-12 head) that fit your specifications. Arrive at the sale site early to inspect the bulls on your short list.

Shorten this list of candidates based on conformation and updated data to identify your purchase candidates. Keep the sale order in mind. Stay focused on the bulls you selected earlier. Sticking to your plan will avoid impulse purchases. Remember: Failure to plan is planning to fail.

Bullish Returns

Too many buyers are getting less value for their money by buying bulls solely on phenotype, over-emphasizing actual performance rather than the genetic prediction or buying a really good bull who’s absolutely wrong for the job. Finding the right bull for the job is as much about managing risk as finding the genetics.

Wes Ishmael | Feb 01, 2006

veryone’s searching for the perfect bull, but he’s never been born and never will be,” says Mark Gardiner, of Gardiner Angus Ranch at Ashland, KS.

Instead, there are more than enough of the right bulls to do the right job.

Unfortunately, too many commercial producers still end up with the wrong bull for their needs. Leading seedstock suppliers say that’s often due to producers putting too little emphasis on bull selection, failing to set breeding goals for their program or waiting until the last minute to find bulls.

“I see too many buyers blow into a sale and buy a bull because of his looks or because he’s selling below the sale average,” says John Burbank, CEO of Seedstock Plus, based at St. Catharine, MO. “Too many buyers are getting less value for their money by buying solely on phenotype, over-emphasizing actual performance rather than the genetic prediction or buying a really good bull who’s absolutely wrong for the job.”

Of course, there are plenty of astute buyers, too, those who push the envelope of genetic possibility with their knowledge and commitment. In fact, Gardiner says, “The elite commercial producers I refer to as professional cattlemen are extremely sophisticated — far more sophisticated than the average seedstock producer.”

Donnell Brown of the R.A. Brown Ranch, Throckmorton, TX, agrees.

“I see it more all the time — buyers spending more time studying the data in the sale catalog than the bulls. Our bull-buying customers realize the feed bucket isn’t heritable. When the fat melts off, the genetics are what you’re left with for multiple generations,” Brown explains. “The typical, profit-minded commercial cowman understands the data better than the average seedstock producer.”

That’s not sour grapes, either. The sentiment is a shared observation based on more than eight decades of building and marketing bulls represented by these three men and their firms.

“Our most effective buyers are those who meet with us prior to bull season, ask questions and tell us about what they need,” Burbank says. “Such producers are planning ahead, either on their own or with a seedstock supplier. They understand they’re more likely to find precisely what they need for a reasonable price when we have 1,000 bulls at the start of the season, rather than waiting until the last sale when there are 100 head.”

Where are you heading?

Of course, planning ahead suggests there’s already a plan. A common mistake these folks see buyers make is in not understanding exactly what they want a particular bull to accomplish.

In both his university position and his family’s seedstock business, Dan Moser, Kansas State University associate professor of animal science, explains, “There are those with a very clear job description for the bulls they need, and those who get caught up in fads.”

Consider carcass traits, for instance. If you sell calves at weaning, there’s little incentive to pay extra for a bull that shines in carcass merit. Or, if you retain ownership through the feedlot, there’s less reason to chase weaning growth.

“I encourage buyers to develop a job description for the bulls they need. Unless you sell every calf, you’ll live with that bull’s genetics for the next 10 years or more,” Moser says.

Being “interviewed” by a seedstock firm interested in building a relationship with you is a helpful way to audit the depth and breadth of your production goals.

When Brown visits with a prospective customer, he asks lots of questions: What’s your environment? What’s your breed makeup? What are your most likely marketing options? Do you plan to keep replacements? What environment are your cattle adapted to in terms of geography, management and breed?

Burbank asks prospects what they want to accomplish with their breeding program, and why they feel his firm’s genetics can help them.

In the same vein, knowing what a bull needs to accomplish requires knowing the cow herd’s capabilities. Most producers have at least a gut feel for those levels, but there are straightforward ways to assess the actual genetic trend within a commercial program.

One way is to look at the expected progeny differences (EPDs) of the bulls you’ve used for the past 10-15 years. Given the overwhelming genetic impact of bulls on a herd compared to cows, the average of those numbers will give you a snapshot of the genetic trend in your herd, says Bob Weaber, University of Missouri Extension beef specialist.

Moser also believes it pays to look at the current EPDs of the sires of bulls bought the last couple of years. These updated values — available through the registering breed association — are a barometer on whether the predicted genetic merit you purchased in the bull’s sons should hold up.

“Compute the genetic trend of the bulls you’ve purchased. Is it taking you in the direction you want to go? Is it too much or too little for your environment? Carry that through in your selection decisions,” Weaber says. “Then tie it to the level of performance you see across years when management is similar.”

EPDs don’t measure actual performance; they estimate the genetic component that contributes, along with environment, to ultimate performance. Thus, Weaber says you can look at the average level of calf performance in a given trait during an average year and see what average sire EPD level produced it. In other words, if your average weaning weight in a normal year is 550 lbs. and the average weaning weight EPD of the bulls is +48, then you know in your herd and environment, using bulls from that same breed, this particular EPD level supports that particular level of performance.

That’s another fact of life necessary for increasing the value received for dollars spent on genetics.

“You must collect weights. If you think you have a birth weight or weaning weight problem and you’re not weighing calves, how do you know?” Gardiner asks.

Incidentally, Weaber points out an easy way to get a fair assessment of mature-cow weight in your herd is simply looking at the weights of cull cows you send to town.

Catching the right ride

Once you know your breeding goals and have a feel for your herd’s genetic trend, the next step is identifying genetics to move you closer to your goals, and which suppliers have those genetics. Moser points out many breed associations have online databases that enable producers to search for bulls by geographic region, specific genetic parameter, etc.

“If you find bulls in a sale catalog that fit your criteria, put those same parameters into a breed’s search engine and see if similar genetics are available other places as well,” Moser suggests. Chances are they will be.

After you’ve identified acceptable genetic parameters, specific genetics and supplier candidates, Weaber says breed-percentile rankings can provide a time-saving sort. He explains these rankings describe where an EPD value for a specific trait places an animal within the breed. If you know the genetic profile of the supplier’s herd you’re considering — average EPDs — you get a first glimpse at where those EPDs place the herd within the breed.

“Maximization is not the goal, it’s optimization. By getting a sense for where a breeder’s herd ranks in terms of percentile, you get an idea of how likely you’ll find a bull in his program that fits your parameters,” Weaber says.

Finding the right bull for the job is as much about managing risk as finding the genetics. That’s one reason Burbank says, “If I was a commercial cow-calf producer, I wouldn’t put myself at risk buying bulls that are available; I’d look ahead and contract them. It’s a very overlooked opportunity.”

Short of that, Gardiner says, “The best thing is to use high-accuracy, progeny-proven sires through artificial insemination. If you can’t do that, then use sons of those sires in natural breeding.” His family has used this strategy since 1980 to hyper-accelerate genetic progress in their herd.

It has to do with accuracy, which Moser defines as the precision of the genetic prediction. Predictions for bulls with EPDs based on only pedigree (the average of the parents’ EPDs) are significantly less accurate than predictions that also include the animal’s own performance compared to peers within a contemporary group. In turn, predictive values that also account for the performance of distant relatives as well as a bull’s own progeny are even more accurate.

According to Weaber, once numeric accuracies are ˜0.2 to ˜0.3, they indicate the animal’s own performance is included in the EPD. An accuracy of ˜0.4 and higher for growth and carcass traits indicates the EPD is also accounting for performance of the bull’s progeny.

That in mind, Weaber says it’s important to look at accuracy levels relative to possible change in order to build confidence ranges. He explains possible change in EPDs decreases as accuracy increases. So, the possible change associated with a particular EPD accuracy — the standard error of prediction — defines the range in which the animal’s EPD is expected to fall 68% of the time.

For illustration, the possible change associated with weaning weight EPD at an accuracy level of 0.4 in the latest genetic evaluation of the Angus breed is 7.0 lbs. Thus, using a bull with that accuracy level, you’d expect the bull’s true progeny difference for weaning weight to be within 7.0 lbs. of the bull’s published value. And, you’d expect that to be true 68% of the time.

Weaber says producers should pay attention to possible change, especially if there’s a critical performance threshold you need to avoid.

Say it’s critical you use bulls above breed average for weaning weight EPD at a 68% confidence level. Using the previous Angus example, the average weaning weight EPD in the breed is currently +38 lbs. At an accuracy level of 0.4, with the associated possible change of 7.0 lbs., that means you would consider buying only bulls with a minimum weaning weight EPD of +45 because the accuracy level indicates you would expect the bull’s true progeny difference to range between +38 and +52 (45 ±7.0 lbs.).

For any given level of accuracy, there are other ways to stack the odds in your favor, too.

“The size of the contemporary group in which the bull is evaluated increases prediction accuracy,” Moser says. “You know more about a bull that performs well in a large contemporary group than one compared to just a few contemporaries.”

Moser defines a “small” contemporary group as fewer than 10 head. As the number increases to 25 head and beyond, accuracy increases.

Prediction risk also decreases if a group of bulls with a similar genetic profile is added to the herd, rather than a single bull. Moser compares this to guessing cattle weights.

“A few people can do a great job of estimating the weight of an individual steer. Many more can do a great job of estimating the average weight of a pen of steers,” he says.

For the record, while some producers are convinced using half-brothers increases prediction accuracy, Moser says, “Putting groups of half brothers together won’t improve genetic uniformity anymore than putting together groups of bulls with similar EPD profiles.” He lists one exception: you can increase uniformity of convenience traits and other non-measurable traits by using bulls that are more closely related.

The point is, there’s no more chance of telling which roll of the genetic dice each half-brother received than there is in guessing it for less-related critters. Even full siblings are obviously different.

Lest you think all this chatter about EPDs, accuracies and percentiles takes the actual animal out of the equation, Gardiner emphasizes, “High accuracy, progeny-proven bulls don’t get to that point if they have a structure or phenotype problem. Those things are a given.”

Further, Weaber points out buyers can increase the odds of selecting a bull that meets their needs by prowling suppliers’ cow herds and looking at the dams of bull candidates. Along with considering their production records, you can evaluate such factors as udder quality and disposition, which don’t necessarily show up on paper. But, he cautions, “You can’t do it in the 20 minutes before a sale.”

Likewise, knowledge loses its punch when not applied. Buyers who select the right bulls but impulsively switch gears at the sale are sacrificing the resources they’ve spent in their search.

“I advise people to sort the cattle based on only those that fit their genetic parameters, then consider only those bulls. At a sale, that bull may be the first one in the ring or the last,” Gardiner says.

By comparing similar genetics in different herds, buyers also begin getting a feel for basic differences between programs.

“Buyers need to understand where a supplier’s cattle fit within the breed. The last bull in one sale may have more value than the top bull in another,” Gardiner says. “The reality is a lot of seedstock suppliers provide a lot of similar genetics, so what makes the genetics at one place more valuable than those at another?”

It’s everything from knowledge and expertise to service and reputation, topics the second installment of this series will explore in March BEEF.