Category: Cow Size

The Most Important Economic Trait – By Kit Pharo

Cow-calf producers who make a living from their cows know fertility is by far the most important economic trait.   Studies have shown that reproductive traits are twice as important as growth traits, which are twice as important as carcass traits.   Ironically, the mainstream beef industry has been selecting almost exclusively for growth and carcass traits for the past 40+ years – at the expense of reproduction.

During the same 40+ years, academics have told us that the heritability of fertility is very low – so low that we shouldn’t waste our time selecting for it.   I’m sure that if you were able to isolate fertility from everything else, then that assumption would appear to be true.   In the real world, however, nothing is isolated.   In fact, just the opposite is true.

Truth be known… it is very easy to select for fertility.   Fertility is more a function of fleshing ability than of anything else – and fleshing ability is more a function of low maintenance requirements than of anything else.   Reproduction cannot take place until maintenance requirements have been met and cows are storing up energy reserves in the form of fat.   Since fleshing ability and maintenance requirements are very heritable, fertility is also very heritable.

As members of the mainstream beef industry selected for more and more growth and for less and less back fat, they inadvertently selected for lower and lower levels of fertility.   They created hard-keeping, high-maintenance cows that struggle to reproduce under what was once considered normal ranch conditions.   The status quo solution to this problem was to reduce stocking rates and/or increase supplemental feeding.   Instead of producing cows that fit their environment, they artificially changed the environment to fit their cows.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“A wise man makes his own decisions.  An ignorant man follows public opinion.”   ~ Grantland Rice

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.

Step 4: Are you buying for Maternal or Terminal crossing. Study the EPDs. Make sure they fit in with what you are trying to accomplish. If you are wanting to keep your Cows on the smaller side – do not breed for frame size and growth/milk. That will lead you away from your desired outcomes.