Category: Marketing

Sorting Out the Bull

February 2015

Selecting a bull today can be an overwhelming task for many cow-calf producers. Photo courtesy of Aaron Berger.

The winter and spring bull sale season is well underway. For many cow-calf producers this is when catalogs are studied and sales are attended, with the focus being on the purchase of their next herd sires. The purchase of a bull is a significant investment and represents the genetic future of the calves and in many cases replacement heifers that will go into the cowherd. The following are thoughts on a process that producers can use when planning the purchase of their next sire.

What do you want your cowherd and the calves you produce to do? What genetics will do that?

Clearly identifying goals for what cattle are expected to do and the traits and characteristics that most impact profitability for the cow-calf enterprise is a foundational first step. Are calves sold at weaning, as yearlings, or is ownership retained through until harvest? What do the purchasers of your calves want? Can you produce what they want and have a functional female if replacements are retained? What is an optimum target given the production system cows are expected to operate under? These “big picture” questions should be answered prior to the selection and purchase of a bull.

Where is my cowherd at genetically?

“Wherever you are at, that is where you are.” Randy Hunter, DVM and stocker/yearling operator from Wheatland, Wyoming uses this phrase when teaching cattle handling skills to help people recognize everyone is at a different place in their ability. Once you know where you are, you can identify a plan to move toward where you want to go. This phrase applies well to thinking about the genetics of the cowherd. What is the genetic makeup of the cowherd currently? Are you pleased with where you are? What traits or characteristics would you like to see change? What is the target for where you want to end up? How much change is needed to reach an optimum level given your resources?

Sorting out the bull breeder

Selecting the breeder and breeding program of your next bull is more important than the choosing of the bull himself. The following are characteristics in no particular order that need to be considered when deciding who will be your genetic provider.

  1. Honesty and Integrity
  2. Custmer Service
  3. Genetic Program and Focus
  4. Bull Development Plan
  5. Value Added Opportunities

Sorting through all the information

Selecting a bull today can be an overwhelming task for many cow-calf producers. Bull sale catalogs are full of information, including actual animal performance, ratios, Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs), gene testing, economic indexes, ultrasound measurements, etc. There are also individual breeders who utilize their own scoring system for characteristics such as disposition and udder soundness of a bull’s dam. Having access to all this information is great. However, trying to sort through and discern what these data mean and which information is relevant to what you want can be a bit like trying to get a drink out of a fire hose! What you want is there, but you can find yourself getting smacked in the face with more than you wanted when you go to get it.

Know and understand what the numbers mean

The first priority is to know and understand EPDs. Research has shown EPDs are a tremendous and valuable tool for giving an indication of what a bull’s true breeding value is in terms of the genetics he will pass on to his calves. Understanding what the numbers mean and which ones are relevant for the traits which you are selecting for is important. Matt Spangler, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Beef Genetics Specialist has put together a NebGuide titled “EPD Basics and Definitions” that explains what these traits mean and how they can be used to compare animals within a breed to one another. In most cases, EPDs are not comparable across breeds. An exception to this is Red Angus and Simmental EPDs which are a multi-breed EPD and are calculated in the same way.

Economic indexes are the second set of numbers to understand. Matt Spangler defines economic indexes as “A collection of EPDs weighted by their economic value such that traits with greater impact on production goals have a larger economic weight associated with them.” Understanding how different economic indexes are calculated for the breed you are evaluating can help you to know if they should be used as a tool for selection.

The third set of numbers to grasp and evaluate is an individual’s own records and performance against those of his contemporaries. These indicate how a bull did in his own right. While worth looking at and evaluating, they are secondary to EPDs for identifying a bull’s true breeding value.

Identify the bulls that meet your “numbers” criteria

Sorting through the bulls on paper and identifying those that meet your criteria is the next step. Plan to do this well in advance of the bull sale so you give yourself adequate time. The more stringent the criteria and the more values you include, the fewer bulls you will have to pick from.

Visually appraise bulls for structural soundness and phenotype

While a bull may look good on paper, when you actually see him, he may not be the type and kind that you want. Remember that this bull’s purpose in life is to get cows pregnant. That means he has to be able to move and cover cows.

Get the breeder’s opinion

A solid seed stock supplier should be a tremendous resource for you in selecting your next sire. Communicate to them what you want and ask what bulls they recommend. See if the bulls you have identified are ones they believe will meet your goals.

Set a budget and give yourself options

Bull sales can be fast moving events. Know ahead of time what you are willing to spend. Identify your options in terms of bulls you will consider. If the bulls you want quickly blow by your limit, you want to have evaluated if there are others in the offering that still meet your criteria.

Conclusion

Selecting your next herd sires is an important event. Being well prepared can help to ensure that the bull you pick takes your herd genetically the direction that you want to go. An excellent resource that further discusses preparing to purchase your next herd sire is the “Rancher’s Guide to Profit”. This set of videos prepared by the Red Angus Association is available at their website.

Aaron Berger
Nebraska Extension Educator

EPDs 101: Use Information to Improve Your Herd

Jared E. Decker
Associate Professor, Division of Animal Sciences, University of Missouri
http://blog.steakgenomics.org/2019/03/epds-101-use-information-to-improve.html

Can we be frank for a minute? It is quite simple: EPDs work. When we use EPDs to make selection decisions (which bulls to buy, which females to keep and cull), the performance of our herd improves. Let’s discuss why EPDs work, how they can be used, and pitfalls to avoid.

Defining EPD

EPD stands for Expected Progeny Difference. “Expected” in this context is a loaded word. We use it here the way a statistician would use it. Expected means we are describing a prediction of the future. Expected also means we are discussing an average, not a single observation. What is the average that we are predicting with EPDs? We are predicting the average progeny, or the average of an animal’s calf crop. Finally, when we are discussing EPDs we are discussing differences. Either the difference between two animals or the difference between an animal and the breed average.

The Key to EPDs

What makes EPDs special? Genetic predictions, i.e. EPDs, separate genetic variation from the total variation in a trait. There is a key piece of information that is essential to do this. We need to have some measure of genetic similarity. In the past, we used pedigree information to estimate this genetic similarity. Now we use a combination of DNA data and pedigree data to measure genetic similarity. With measures of genetic similarity, we can separated the bell curve for the variation in the trait into two parts: first, a genetic variation and second, other sources of variation. Now that we have the genetic variation isolated, we can use that informationto make genetic decisions.

Contemporary Groups

Contemporary groups are another important piece of genetic evaluations. Contemporary groups are groups of animals from the same farm or ranch that were managed the same, are the same sex, and are similar in age. By accounting for contemporary groups in genetic evaluations, we remove sources of similarity or differences that are not due to genetics. This makes the genetic evaluation more accurate. By using contemporary groups, we can perform a national genetic evaluation.

The Purpose of a Bull Sale

What is the purpose of a bull sale? What are we buying at a bull sale? What is the purpose of a bull? And, what distinguishes a great bull from a good bull?

We do not go to a bull sale to buy the environment. We do not go to a bull sale to buy management practices or feed rations. When we purchase a bull, we are buying genetics. A bull is simply a delivery mechanism for the genetic potential of our next calf crop. Bulls should be measured on the performance of their calves. The ultimate measure of a bull is not how he looks, but how his calves perform and affect our profitability.

Far too often, bull buyers try to buy management, nutrition and environment when they purchase a bull. While a bull needs to be fertile and sound to do his job, his main purpose is to provide genetics for the next generation. When we make genetic decisions based on actual performance or adjusted performance, we are trying to purchase the management of the bull. Management is not passed on to future generations. Only by using EPDs to make genetic decisions do we focus our decisions on genetic merit. Genetic evaluations take raw measures and create information we can use when purchasing a bull.

How EPDs Are Used

We use EPDs to rank animals from the most favorable to the least favorable. For example, suppose we want to increase the growth potential of our herd. We can rank potential artificial insemination (AI) sires from those with the largest Weaning Weight (WW) EPD to those with the smallest WW EPD. We would then purchase semen on the bulls with the largest WW EPD to increase the weaning weights in our herd. But, we need to discuss two pitfalls with this hypothetical example.

First, we need to avoid single trait selection. We do not want to focus on one trait. By focusing on one trait, we often take one step forward for that trait but two steps back on other economically important traits. Focusing on multiple traits can be difficult, but economic selection indexes make this easier. Economic selection indexes combine multiple traits into a single number based on each trait’s economic importance. Commercial producers should identify an index that matches their production system and marketing endpoint.

Second, extremes are not always better. For some traits, a middle or optimal value is best. We want birth weights that are small enough to avoid calving difficulties. But, we do not want calves born so small that they do not thrive as newborns. We also want Milk or Maternal (MAT) EPDs that match our forage resources. We want cows that provide adequate nutrition to their calves. However, cows with high genetic potential for Milk or MAT have high maintenance energy requirements and cannot fully express their milk production potential. These cows waste forage resources and in some environments may have trouble breeding back. EPDs can be used to select cattle that are at or near breed average; EPDs do not require selection for extremes.

Avoiding Pitfalls

EPDs can be imprecise, e.g. miss the mark, for individual animals. This is especially true if it is a young animal with very little data. There are a couple of strategies to counteract this.

First, we can turn in more data on an animal. Seedstock producers can collect as much data as possible and turn complete, clean data into their breed association. Commercial producers can work with seedstock producers who are passionate about data reporting. An easy way to get more data is made possible through technology. DNA testing a bull to produce genomic-enhanced EPDs is equal to reporting about 20 progeny records for all published traits. Genomic testing improves the accuracy of EPDs as it allows us to better measure the genetic similarity of animals in the genetic evaluation.

However, we should not double- or triple-count information. One of the ways we commonly see people do this is when selecting a calving ease bull. They often look at the actual birth weight, the Birth Weight EPD, and the Calving Ease Direct EPD to make this decision. But, this practice makes these decisions less accurate, because instead of adding information they are adding together uncertainty. Further, the Calving Ease Direct EPD contains the information in Birth Weight EPD and Birth Weight EPD contains the information in the actual birth weight. So, the best practice is to simply look at the Calve Ease Direct EPD that contains all of the available information.

Second, we can hedge our bets. Too often in beef breeding, we are looking for the “One” great bull. But, in reality, the “One” does not exists. Instead of using one bull, we hedge against changing EPDs by using a group of bulls. Because EPDs are unbiased, some of the bulls in the group will have their EPDs go up, others will have their EPDs go down, and others will stay the same as EPDs are updated with more data. The average of this group of bulls will remain the same before and after the EPD updates. However, we are at the mercy of randomness if we use a single bull. His EPDs might stay the same, go up, or go down. Because EPDs are predictions of the average, we can use this property to protect ourselves against uncertainty.

How EPDs Work in Practice

Suppose we have two bulls, Black Bull and Gold Bull. Black Bull has a WW EPD of 2 and Gold Bull has a WW EPD of 22. There is a 20 pound difference in the EPDs of these two bulls. At the same ranch under the same management and environment, we mate each of these bulls to 100 cows apiece. Fifteen months later, we wean the resulting calf crops. The Black Bull’s calves average 495 pounds at weaning, with the majority of the calves weighing between 445 to 545 pounds. The Gold Bull’s calves average 515 pounds at weaning. The 20-pound difference in the EPDs of the bulls is reflected in a 20-pound difference in the average of their calf crop. However, due to the randomness of inheritance and genetics, some of the Gold Bull’s calves under perform the Black Bull’s average and some of the Black Bull’s calves outperform the Gold Bull’s average. We cannot do much to change the shape of the bell curves. However, with the use of EPDs, we can move the bell curve in the direction we want it to go.

Conclusion

Cattle producers can use EPDs to use all the data available boiled down to information they can use. EPDs predict genetic differences and inform selection decisions. EPDs produce the desired results when used consistently and properly. Whether in good times or bad, EPDs help us accomplish our goals.

http://blog.steakgenomics.org/2019/03/epds-101-use-information-to-improve.html

EPDs only one part of the genetic selection formula

EPDs most valuable when used with best practices

Meeting Your Goals

Selecting Bulls to Meet Your Goals –

By Kit Pharo

I came across an internet article late last week entitled, “Selecting Bulls to Meet Your Goals,” or something like that.   It wasn’t worth the time it took to open the link – but it did get me to thinking.   I suspect most cow-calf producers have no goals.   They are just doing what everyone else is doing and/or what they have always done.   If you don’t have goals, you have no direction in your life or business.

Do you have business goals?   I’m not talking about ideas or dreams you think about every now and then.   I’m talking about real goals.   If you have real goals, you are probably one in a thousand.   If you have real goals, you have a HUGEcompetitive advantage over everyone else in your business.   If you have real goals, you are creating your own future.   If you have real goals, you are also creating a future for the next generation.

A real goal must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable and Time-Sensitive.

  1. Specific: Goals are no place to waffle.   This is no place to be vague.   Vague goals produce vague results.
  2. Measurable: Always set goals that are measurable.   If they are not measurable, you will never know for sure when they have been achieved.   For example, don’t set a goal to “make more money.”
  3. Attainable: Goals must be realistic and attainable.   Most people don’t set goals – so when they do, they tend to set goals that are too big to be easily attained.   This creates discouraging results.
  4. Time-Sensitive: Every goal should have a timeframe attached to it.   A goal must have a deadline – a time in which you want to accomplish it.

I have achieved the best results when I break my big goals down into several (or many) smaller goals that can be easily attained in a relatively short period of time.   I liken my really big goals to an elephant that must be eaten.   There is no way I can eat an elephant in one sitting.   However, I will eventually eat the entire elephant – one bite at a time.

If you do not have any business goals, I encourage you to set some.   Start out by just setting one simple goal that should be easy to attain.   Do it today!   Someday is not a day of the week.   I cannot think of anything that will even come close to giving you a greater return on the time invested.   You will literally amaze yourself!

Let’s go back to the subject of bull selection…

Since the bulls you purchase are responsible for at least 90% of your herd improvement (or deterioration), it makes sense that bull selection can play an extremely important part in helping you meet your goals.   Are you purchasing bulls that will help you achieve your business goals?   Are you purchasing bulls that will increase your future success and happiness?   Are you purchasing bulls with the next generation in mind?

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”   ~ Tony Robbins

Bull Selection: Using Economically Relevant Traits

Beef Cattle Research Council www.BeefResearch.ca.

Sire selection often encompass a variety of factors such as how well a bull fits into the breeding objectives of your operation, breed, conformation, pedigree, birthweight, and price. Recent surveys from western Canada in 2014 and 2017, Ontario in 2015/16, northern Ontario and Quebec in 2015/16, and Atlantic Canada in 2016/17 production years asked respondents to rank their top bull selection criteria.  There wasn’t a lot of variation between regions with breed, conformation, pedigree, birth weight, individual performance, expected progeny differences (EPDs), and temperament all being highly ranked by survey participants.   

Some of the criteria, like breed, may influence sire selection due to the desire to capture heterosis or breed complementarity effects.  Conformation is important for longevity and ensuring the bull gets the job done during the breeding season.  Having a bull with a desirable temperament makes everyone’s lives easier, especially if there are children or older individuals involved in the operation.  Individual performance and birth weight may give some indication of how the bull’s progeny may perform, but a better indicator in this area is actually the bull’s EPDs. Response to selection using EPDs is 7-9 times more effective than selecting based on individual animal performance7.

The question is, how well do these various selection criteria translate into profit?

Answering this question means taking a look at your operation.

  • What are your breeding/marketing goals?
  • Which traits affect the profitability of your operation?
  • What constraints does your operation have (forage resources, labour, etc.)?
  • Do you raise your own replacements or purchase them4?

Once those questions are answered, there are likely a number of traits you have identified as important to your operation.

While a number of data sources exist to help you evaluate the contribution of a potential herd sire to improving the traits of interest, it is important to recognize whether the traits you have identified are indicator or economically relevant traits.  Good record keeping is crucial to determine whether or not progress is being made in the traits you have identified as important to your operation’s productivity and profitability.

Economically relevant traits (ERTs) are those that are directly associated with a source of revenue, or a cost.  Not all EPDs represent ERTs – instead they use a related (or indicator) trait to estimate the ERT.

One of the best examples is birth weight.  Decreasing a bull’s birth weight by 5 lbs does not have any associated income or costs, but is often used as a bull buying criteria in an effort to reduce calving problems.

The actual ERT in this case is calving ease, as an increase in calving problems will reduce calf survival (less calves to sell), incurs higher labour costs (pulling calves, or more time spent monitoring), and delays cow rebreeding (younger and lighter calves to sell next year).

Similarly, ultrasound for carcass traits is another suite of common indicator traits, while the ERTs are the actual carcass measurements (weight, yield, and marbling).

We all recognize fertility (in both sires and dams) as a trait that has the biggest impacts on profitability.  But fertility has relatively low heritability, meaning that cumulative environmental influences (e.g. nutrition, weather, etc.) generally have a larger impact than genetics.  In Canada, some genetic evaluations do not report any EPDs at all for ERTs related to female fertility. While most evaluations include scrotal circumference (indicator), it actually has a near zero relationship with heifer pregnancy rate (ERT)

In the Canadian context, a stayablity or length of productive life type of EPD (probability of an animal remaining in the herd for X period of time or awarding more credit to cows remaining longer in the herd), while an ERT itself, is also the best proxy for fertility given the lack of EPDs in this area, as the most common reason for a cow to be culled is because she’s open.

When EPDs for both indicator and ERTs for the same trait are included in genetic evaluations (e.g. calving ease and birth weight), make sure you focus on the EPD for the ERT and not the indicator trait. The indicator trait cannot add more information to the selection process, as it is already used in the calculation of the EPD for the ERT in the first place.  When an EPD for an indicator trait is available, but no EPD exists for the ERT (e.g. scrotal circumference and heifer pregnancy rate), it can result in an over or under-estimation of the ability of the indicator trait to predict the ERT3.

Given the plethora of EPDs available, trying to sort through ten or fifteen or twenty individual EPDs that may not have relevance to your particular operation can easily lead to information overload.  By focusing on the ERTs, you can eliminate those bits of information that will not directly impact your operation’s profitability.

For example, if you’re using a terminal system (not keeping replacements) and selling at weaning, the weaning weight EPD is going to be one of your most important ERTs.  If you tend to retain ownership through to slaughter, the more relevant ERTs are carcass weight, quality, and yield grades.

In some cases, whether a published EPD is an indicator or ERT will depend on how that EPD is reported.  For example, carcass trait EPDs calculated using combination of ultrasound and actual carcass data would be ERTs (e.g. marbling score), but those reported on an ultrasound data basis (e.g. percent intramuscular fat) would be indicators.  Table 1 contains some common traits that may or may not have a published EPD in your breed of choice and whether they are an indicator or ERT.

Table 1.  List of selected EPDs characterized as indicator or ERT

Adapted from (4) and (6) (see references below).  This is not an exhaustive list.

Many genetic evaluations offer selection indices in addition to individual EPDs.  These are calculated by placing an economic weighting on individual EPDs to create a multi-trait selection model for different types of broad production systems (generally maternal or terminal).  These provide a way to objectively categorize a set of animals using the same criteria throughout.  Examples include the Canadian Simmental Association’s All Purpose Index (API) and Terminal Index (TI), AgSight’s BIO$ Economic Index, or the Canadian Hereford Association’s Maternal Productivity Index (MPI) and Feedlot Merit Index (FPI).  The indices offered by most breed associations are fairly robust across production environments, keeping in mind their overall objective – don’t expect high ranking terminal index bulls to give you stellar replacement heifers.

Ideally, selection indices would be tailored to each individual operation’s identified ERTs, with different economic weightings depending on the production system, but the creation of customized selection indices with real-world economic weightings requires detailed cost and return information and a complete understanding of the complex genetic relationships between traits.  This type of model may also present some difficulty for seedstock producers, as marketing based on a fluid index (where a bull could be in the top 1% for X trait in one type of production system, but only in the top 50% for the same trait in another production system) would be challenging.4

Regardless, the amount of detailed information required to populate these types of models may not be readily available for the average producer.

By identifying ERTs, you can narrow your selection focus to the EPDs that matter most for your breeding goals, increasing the likelihood that the decisions you make will actually have an impact on your bottom line.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for part four in this four-part series. (See part one and part two).

1Ahlberg, C.M., L.A. Kuehn, R.M. Thallman, S.D. Kachman, and M.L. Spangler. 2014. Genetic parameter estimates for calving difficulty and birth weight in a multi-breed population. In Proc. 10th World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production.

2Bennett, G. L., and K. E. Gregory. 2001. Genetic (co)variances for calving difficulty score in composite and parental populations of beef cattle: I. Calving difficulty score, birth weight, weaning weight, and postweaning gain. J. Anim. Sci. 79:45-51.

3Golden, B.L., D.J. Garrick, S. Newman, and R.M. Enns. 2000. Economically Relevant Traits: A framework for the next generation of EPDs. Proceedings of the 32nd
Research Symposium and Annual Meeting of the Beef Improvement Federation. Pp. 2-13

4Spangler, M.L. 2015.  Economically relevant traits and selection indices.  Range Beef Cow Symposium XXIV.

5Spangler, M.L. 2017.  Economically relevant traits.  Accessed Online at: https://beef.unl.edu/economically-relevant-traits

6Enns, R.M. 2010.  National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium Beef Sire Selection Manual 2nd Ed.  The Role of Economically Relevant and Indicator Traits.

7Spangler, M.L. and R.L. Weaber. 2017. Genetic Selection vs. Visual Appraisal: Is it a Conundrum?  Range Beef Cow Symposium XXV

Bull Selection: What are you looking for?

Editor’s note: The following is part two of a four-part series that will help you to evaluate different breeding programs, which bulls are optimal for your herd, and how much they’re worth. (Seepart one).

Bull selection is one of the most important decisions for cow-calf producers, with implications for short- and long-term profitability of the operation. The choice of bull can be immediately seen in the subsequent calf crop.

If the operation retains heifers and/or bulls, the genetics in the selected bull will be passed down to subsequent generations. Introducing new genetics is a permanent change to the herd, compared to the temporary nature of supplements or management practices. As such, bull selection can be seen as a long-term investment into the operation.

Research in the area of beef cattle genetics has been growing significantly. There are opportunities to improve profitability through sire selection. However, with a multitude of traits, breed differences, operational goals, and management practices, bull selection is a complex decision.

There are a range of different beef operations in Canada, and there is no one type of bull that is optimal for all operations. Bull selection depends on many factors such as management style, calving season, labour availability, age when calves are marketed, heifer retention practices, and nutritional management.

Before selecting a bull, operational goals should be established and the management and breeding practices (see Part 1) that fit those goals determined.

For example, a full-time producer who observes the cattle multiple times a day may not prioritize calving ease in a bull as much as an operation with limited labour. A farm with limited forage resources may prefer smaller cattle that are more efficient at converting low quality forage.

To assist with making bull selection decisions, consistent record keeping on the herd will help identify areas of strength and weakness in the herd and guide you towards the type of genetic change you want to see. Once operational goals and breeding programs have been determined a producer can focus in on specific Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) to guide their bull selection.

When selecting a bull, Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) are a helpful tool to predict bull performance. EPDs are the estimation of an animal genetic merit. They are compared to a breed average (not zero) and cannot be compared across breed. An explanation of EPDs can be found here and in NBCEC (2010).

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Table 2. Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) indicators by category

Calving ease is a key trait that influences profitability. It is estimated the majority of calf loss is a result of dystocia (difficulty calving). Dystocia results in higher labor costs, decreased calf survival, and delayed rebreeding for the cow resulting in younger calves at weaning the following year.

The EPD for calving ease takes into account numerous factors including birth weight. Studies suggest birth weight is the most important factor for calving ease – a one pound increase in birth weight increases the probability of dystocia by two percent (Herring, 1996). Birthweight, while important for calving ease, isn’t always a direct correlation, for example a larger frame score cow should have no problem giving birth to a 95 lb calf; whereas, a smaller frame score cow might, especially if that calf has a bigger head and shoulders. However, shoulder width and pelvic areas alone have not been shown to be useful predictors in calving ease (NBCEC, 2010). Purely focusing on low birth weights when selecting bulls can be ill-advised. As low birth weight is genetically correlated with weaning and yearling weights, such a breeding program may lead to lower growth performance (Herring, 1996).

“Labour availability, a high proportion of heifers, calving on pasture, or a new producer with limited time and experience, calving ease should be prioritized”

To determine the significance of calving ease in bull selection, the goals and type of the operation should be taken into consideration. For example, if there is low labour availability, a high proportion of heifers, calving on pasture, or a new producer with limited time and experience, calving ease should be prioritized. On the flip side, an intensive operation focused on selling large calves may not find calving ease to be as important. Calving ease may also be an important trait if calving in late winter (i.e., February), as cold weather has been linked to larger calves and lower calf survivability (Hamilton, 2010).

Other traits of interest are milk production and bull fertility.

High milk production results in increased weaning weights. However, it raises energy requirements for cows even when they are not lactating. If the cow-calf operation has low forage availability, selecting for high milk production may lead to feed shortages and undernourished cattle. If running a terminal system and not retaining any heifers, the milk production trait becomes less relevant.

Bull fertility is linked to higher semen quality and quantity, as well as a lower age of puberty for his daughters.

As already mentioned, there are potential trade-offs between birth weight and performance. A low birth weight may increase calving ease, but it is correlated with lower weaning weight. However, there are many cases where a low birth weight is warranted; for example, when labour availability is limited or when breeding heifers. A low birth weight can be compensated for by selecting for higher milk production; however, as milk production increases, the nutrient requirement of cows will also increase, although it’s not a direct 1:1 relationship. Selection for superior growth can lead to calving difficulty and cows too large for the existing forage resources.

When calves are marketed also affects bull selection. If calves are sold at weaning, producers can focus on traits associated with a higher weaning weight, such as milk production and weaning weight EPD. When ownership is retained, weaning weight is less of a priority, and the focus may shift to traits such as yearling weight and carcass indicators (e.g., carcass weight, ribeye area, fat thickness, marbling). EPDs can help remove some of the guessing game when it comes to carcass quality as visual appraisal of muscling does not have a strong link to carcass quality.

Bull conformation directly affects longevity, and his structural soundness is passed along to the cow herd. Conformation can be evaluated through visual appraisal. Key factors to look for are the bull’s ability to walk easily without discomfort, the slope and angle to the joints of the legs, free from defects of the claws (e.g. toes that cross over each other or turn up), and joints free of swelling and inflammation. Healthy legs and feet are particularly important for extensive operations and large pastures, especially if there is rough terrain or multiple bulls in a breeding field.

When looking at body condition, the goal is to choose a bull with a moderate score. If the score is low, the bull’s performance is reduced as they lose weight during the breeding season. If the body condition score is too high, sperm quality and stamina are adversely affected.

Temperament is another consideration for bull selection. Bulls that are aggressive, nervous, or flighty may be undesirable due to safety concerns (e.g. older operators or young children) or damage to facilities. On the other hand, as temperament is moderately heritable, overly docile cows can pose an issue if calving on pasture where predation is a concern.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution or a bull that is best for all scenarios, as the right genetics depend on the individual operation. Key EPDs include:

  • maternal and fertility traits (e.g. calving ease, milk production, bull fertility),
  • trade-offs between performance and carcass quality traits,
  • conformation and structural soundness.

For example, labour availability during calving season and how closely females are monitored will determine the emphasis on calving ease and birth weight EPDs when selecting a bull. Or if marketing calves at weaning or retaining ownership will influence trade-off producers are willing to live with. Is the higher birth weight and time spent at calving worthwhile come sale day when you see that weaning weight?

There are many different types of bulls available, and effective sire selection requires an understanding of the characteristics of the available genetics as well as your own operation. Deliberate alignment of the bull’s genetics to your operational goals will contribute to enhanced revenue and reduced costs.

Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) resources https://beefimprovement.org/library-2/fact-sheets

Kuehn, L. and M. Thallman. 2018 Across-Breed EPD Table and Improvements. Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) https://beefimprovement.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/18_ABEPDpressreleaseandfactsheet.pdf

Schmid, K. EPDs: What do all those numbers mean?http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/epds/

National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium (NBCEC). (2010). Beef Sire Selection Manual 2nd Edition. http://www.nbcec.org/producers/sire_selection/manual.pdf

Gosey, J.A. (1991). Crossbreeding Systems and The Theory Behind Composite Breedshttp://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1235&context=rangebeefcowsymp

Weaber, R.L. (2015). Crossbreeding Strategies: Including Terminal Vs. Maternal Crosseshttp://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1331&context=rangebeefcowsymp

Agriculture Victoria (2017). Breeds of Beef Cattle. http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/beef/breeds/breeds-of-beef-cattle Accessed January 16, 2019.

Evans, J. and McPeake, C.A. Crossbreeding Beef Cattle I. http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Rendition-2051/unknown Accessed January 20, 2019.

Gaines, J. A., McClure, W. H., Vogt, D. W., Carter, R. C., & Kincaid, C. M. (1966). Heterosis from crosses among British breeds of beef cattle: Fertility and calf performance to weaning. Journal of Animal Science 25(1): 5-13.

Gosey, J.A. (1991). Crossbreeding Systems and The Theory Behind Composite Breeds. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1235&context=rangebeefcowsympAccessed January 20, 2019.

Gregory, K. E., Cundiff, L. V., Koch, R. M., Laster, D. B., & Smith, G. M. (1978). Heterosis and Breed Maternal and Transmitted Effects in Beef Cattle I. Preweaning Traits 1, 2, 3, 6, 7. Journal of Animal Science 47(5), 1031-1041.

Hamilton, T. (2010). Summer Calving Can Be Super! http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/beef/facts/info_summer_calving.htm Accessed January 20, 2019.

Herring, W.O. 1996. Calving Difficulty in Beef Cattle: BIF Fact Sheet. https://extension2.missouri.edu/g2035 Accessed January 20, 2019.

Koger, M. (1980). Effective crossbreeding systems utilizing Zebu cattle. Journal of Animal Science 50:1215.

MacNeil, M. D. (2009). Invited review: Research contributions from seventy-five years of breeding Line 1 Hereford cattle at Miles City, Montana. Journal of Animal Science 87(8): 2489-2501.

National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium (NBCEC). (2010). Beef Sire Selection Manual 2nd Edition. http://www.nbcec.org/producers/sire_selection/manual.pdf Accessed January 20, 2019.

Northcutt, S.L., Buchanan, D.S., & Clutter, A.C. Inbreeding in Cattle. http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-1974/ANSI-3165web.pdfAccessed January 16, 2019.

Turner, J. W., Farthing, B. R., & Robertson, G. L. (1968). Heterosis in reproductive performance of beef cows. Journal of Animal Science 27(2): 336-338.

van der Westhuizen, B. (2016) Inbreeding vs Linebreeding. http://www.ngunicattle.info/Publications/Journals/2016/Inbreeding%20vs%20line-breeding.pdfAccessed January 20, 2019.

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Marketing seedstock: Make it count

Progressive Cattleman Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 19 November 2018

“There are no new customers,” Rick Cozzitorto, president of Angus Media, warned National Angus Convention attendees in November. “The only way you get them is to steal them.”

While that might sound a little harsh, Cozzitorto has a point. He explained that 20 years ago, there were around 800,000 commercial cattlemen and now that number has dropped to 600,000. Likewise, there used to be roughly 200 Angus sales a year, now there are 1,250 Angus sales a year.

“We’re not growing any more [cattlemen]. There is no more land, no more cattle, that’s how you do it. And that’s all done through marketing.”

To be effective marketers, Cozzitorto told attendees they need to:

  1. Establish awareness
  2. Get customers to consider their business
  3. Get customers to convert
  4. Establish loyalty

The challenge, however, is there are only eight seconds to do it.

Citing a study from Microsoft Corp., Cozzitorto pointed out that the average consumer’s attention span is only eight seconds, thanks to an increasingly digitalized lifestyle. That doesn’t give breeders much time to educate a new customer about their program and ultimately, get them to convert.

Sara Reardon, also with Angus Media, referred to the awareness and consideration phase as an “elevator speech.” Basically, she said, “make sure you are not everything to everyone. If you’re explaining your business in a paragraph, what’s really special about that? You need to be able to say who you are and what you do in eight seconds.”

Diving a little deeper, Reardon told attendees to think about what promises they can deliver and if they are realistic. She pointed out that delivering the best cattle in the U.S. probably shouldn’t be on the list. Rather, she encouraged them to ask questions such as: What values are important to their organization? What makes their business unique? What are they doing for their customers? And from there, define their purpose and translate it into a mission statement.

“It’s your guiding phrase for your business,” Reardon said. “It focuses all decisions and the way you operate. Once you’ve established that mission statement, you might be surprised when you look back at your marketing materials and find that you probably weren’t as focused as you thought you were.” She encouraged breeders to set aside time to look at their website, current ads, social media and sale books to make sure their message is consistent.

Reardon also addressed the looming question: Is there a return on investment? While breeders might feel like they are throwing away much-needed cash, Reardon noted a study showing that with consistent delivery of brand image and message, business revenue can increase by 23 percent. “Did it happen immediately with just one ad? Absolutely not,” she said. On average, consumers have to see an ad seven times before they will even notice it.

In terms of budgeting, Reardon told attendees to look at their projected gross income and then develop their budget from there. If awareness is what a breeder needs, they can expect to spend 3 to 5 percent of their projected gross revenue. If they want people to start to convert, they can expect to spend 7 to 8 percent, and if they want to make a real impact, they should expect to spend 10 to 15 percent.

She said, “If you’re not willing to invest to reach those averages, maybe you need to adjust your expectation of what you’re going to get out of those ads.”

Both Reardon and Cozzitorto agree that it is much cheaper to maintain current customers than it is to find new ones. In fact, Cozzitorto said, a loyal customer is 50 percent more likely to buy a second bull, a second heifer, semen or a new product the business is offering, whereas it’s seven times more costly to gain a new customer.

“Take care of the ones you have, return that phone call, fix the problems, do everything you possibly can because they are loyal and they’ll stay with you,” he said. “If you lose a customer, it is your fault.”

Lastly, Cozzitorto encouraged attendees to spend some time researching their competition. How many ads do they run? Do they have a website? Are they on social media? He said, “We have people who breed great cattle and get average prices, and we have people who breed average cattle and get great prices. The difference is really just marketing.”

Marketing seedstock: Make it count

Progressive Cattleman Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 19 November 2018

“There are no new customers,” Rick Cozzitorto, president of Angus Media, warned National Angus Convention attendees in November. “The only way you get them is to steal them.”

While that might sound a little harsh, Cozzitorto has a point. He explained that 20 years ago, there were around 800,000 commercial cattlemen and now that number has dropped to 600,000. Likewise, there used to be roughly 200 Angus sales a year, now there are 1,250 Angus sales a year.

“We’re not growing any more [cattlemen]. There is no more land, no more cattle, that’s how you do it. And that’s all done through marketing.”

To be effective marketers, Cozzitorto told attendees they need to:

  1. Establish awareness
  2. Get customers to consider their business
  3. Get customers to convert
  4. Establish loyalty

The challenge, however, is there are only eight seconds to do it.

Citing a study from Microsoft Corp., Cozzitorto pointed out that the average consumer’s attention span is only eight seconds, thanks to an increasingly digitalized lifestyle. That doesn’t give breeders much time to educate a new customer about their program and ultimately, get them to convert.

Sara Reardon, also with Angus Media, referred to the awareness and consideration phase as an “elevator speech.” Basically, she said, “make sure you are not everything to everyone. If you’re explaining your business in a paragraph, what’s really special about that? You need to be able to say who you are and what you do in eight seconds.”

Diving a little deeper, Reardon told attendees to think about what promises they can deliver and if they are realistic. She pointed out that delivering the best cattle in the U.S. probably shouldn’t be on the list. Rather, she encouraged them to ask questions such as: What values are important to their organization? What makes their business unique? What are they doing for their customers? And from there, define their purpose and translate it into a mission statement.

“It’s your guiding phrase for your business,” Reardon said. “It focuses all decisions and the way you operate. Once you’ve established that mission statement, you might be surprised when you look back at your marketing materials and find that you probably weren’t as focused as you thought you were.” She encouraged breeders to set aside time to look at their website, current ads, social media and sale books to make sure their message is consistent.

Reardon also addressed the looming question: Is there a return on investment? While breeders might feel like they are throwing away much-needed cash, Reardon noted a study showing that with consistent delivery of brand image and message, business revenue can increase by 23 percent. “Did it happen immediately with just one ad? Absolutely not,” she said. On average, consumers have to see an ad seven times before they will even notice it.

In terms of budgeting, Reardon told attendees to look at their projected gross income and then develop their budget from there. If awareness is what a breeder needs, they can expect to spend 3 to 5 percent of their projected gross revenue. If they want people to start to convert, they can expect to spend 7 to 8 percent, and if they want to make a real impact, they should expect to spend 10 to 15 percent.

She said, “If you’re not willing to invest to reach those averages, maybe you need to adjust your expectation of what you’re going to get out of those ads.”

Both Reardon and Cozzitorto agree that it is much cheaper to maintain current customers than it is to find new ones. In fact, Cozzitorto said, a loyal customer is 50 percent more likely to buy a second bull, a second heifer, semen or a new product the business is offering, whereas it’s seven times more costly to gain a new customer.

“Take care of the ones you have, return that phone call, fix the problems, do everything you possibly can because they are loyal and they’ll stay with you,” he said. “If you lose a customer, it is your fault.”

Lastly, Cozzitorto encouraged attendees to spend some time researching their competition. How many ads do they run? Do they have a website? Are they on social media? He said, “We have people who breed great cattle and get average prices, and we have people who breed average cattle and get great prices. The difference is really just marketing.”  end mark

Cassidy Woolsey

PHOTO: Rick Cozzitorto, president of Angus Media, speaks to National Angus Convention attendees in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Cassidy Woolsey.