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.
Specific:Goals are no place to waffle. This is no place to be vague. Vague goals produce vague results.
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.”
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.
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
Never underestimate the power of your bull. Selecting and purchasing a bull for your beef herd could be considered one of the most important decisions you make in your operation. Don’t make a quick, unprepared decision on purchasing a bull. Never consider purchasing a bull without a proven record and a sound genetic background. Using a bull with poor performance and a weak genetic base could delay improvements in your herd for several years. The small expense you have in purchasing a bull is the difference between the purchase price of the new bull and the salvage value of the old bull (see Example 1). This investment will add efficiency and profitability to your herd for years to come.
Example 1. Cost of a bull purchase
$3000 Purchase Price of New Bull -2090 Salvage Value of Old Bull (1900 lbs. X 1.10/lb.)
$ 910 Net Cost of New Bull
If the new bull sires 90 calves over the next 3-5 years, $910 ÷ 90 = $10.11 cost/ calf. If the bull sires 90 calves that are 10 pounds heavier at weaning and they sell for $1.09/lb. (3-year average for 500-pound calves ? GA Auction Markets, 2009-2011) at weaning, you will have paid for the bull.
The cost of purchasing a bull may seem high at a glance; however, that expense becomes relatively small when it is spread across your bull?s calf crop for a three- to five-year period. Example 1 shows how you can turn an expense into a savings. Bull procurement decisions can greatly impact your future calf crops and herd genetics for many years. When you consider that the bull contributes one-half of the genetic makeup of your calf crop and may sire 25 to 40 or more calves per year, it is easy to see that he is the most important individual in the herd. Keep in mind that a bull that will improve a herd must have genetic superiority over both the cows in the herd and over pervious bulls.
The best way to remain efficient in today’s beef industry is continue to produce more pounds of product per cow exposed. That task can become hard to achieve without the help of a superior bull. Fortunately, weight at various ages is heritable. Birth weight and weaning weight are estimated to be about 30 percent heritable, while yearling weight is about 45 percent heritable. This means that a certain degree of birth weight, weaning weight and yearling weight is inherited from the parents and that progress can be made by selecting for these traits.
Birth, weaning and yearling weights are normally used to evaluate breeding animals. Actual or adjusted weights may help in making comparisons between bulls in the same contemporary group (a group of animals from the same herd, year and season that is raised together under the same conditions). Since environmental factors like feed and weather affect weights, actual or adjusted weight can be misleading if bulls come from different contemporary groups. Within a herd, weight ratios help account for some of the environmental differences between contemporary groups. But, ratios can also be misleading if bulls come from different herds. Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs), on the other hand, are calculated across herds. A bull’s EPD for a trait is a more accurate estimate of his genetic worth than his weight, adjusted weight or ratio. EPDs not only account for contemporary group and herd differences, they also include information on a bull?s relatives as well as his individual performance. Breed associations report EPDs on weights and many other traits.
Most major breed associations have National Cattle Evaluation programs. Breeders who are involved in their breed’s performance program should have birth, weaning and yearling weight EPDs available on yearling bulls. In all of these breeds, weight EPDs are expressed in pounds of calf. For example, if bull A has a weaning weight EPD of +45 and bull B has a weaning weight EPD of +35, the calves produced by bull A are expected to weigh, on the average, 10 pounds more at weaning than those of bull B, assuming the bulls are bred to comparable cows.
Advances in National Cattle Evaluation have made estimating a bull’s genetic worth more accurate than ever before. EPDs allow valid comparisons of all bulls of the same breed, but they do not allow comparison of bulls from different breeds. Since breeds have different average performance, base years and evaluation procedures, direct comparison of EPDs from different breeds can be extremely misleading. It should also be noted that a bull with an EPD of zero is rarely average. In most breeds, zero is the average of some base group of animals. Since breeds change over time, in some breeds it is possible to find bulls with positive weaning and yearling weight EPDs that are several pounds below the average of all yearling bulls in that breed. Current breed averages and information on how to use EPDs are included in breed association sire summaries, which are available on most major breed association websites.
Accuracy Values (ACC) are usually published with EPDs. The accuracy values indicate the reliability of the EPD, or how likely the EPD is to change as more information becomes available. Accuracies are usually expressed as correlations ranging from zero to one. The closer the accuracy is to one, the more reliable the EPD is. Yearling bulls normally have low accuracy values. Older AI sires can have very high accuracies.
Recommended Performance Standards
Weaning Weight ? Yearling Weight
Commercial producers are paid for pounds of calf. Two very important traits to consider are weaning and yearling weights. However, single trait selection may result in problems with other traits. A good example is selecting for yearling weight alone, which results in increased birth weight because the two traits are genetically correlated. Select bulls that have an excellent combination of performance EPDs that are at or near the bulls’ breed average. Desired genetic improvement involves a combination of several traits, including weaning and yearling weights.
Maternal ability within a breed can best be evaluated with milk EPDs; however, milk is not measured directly in beef cattle performance programs. It is measured in terms of how it affects weaning weight. Milk EPD on a bull is an estimate of pounds of calf at weaning produced by the bull’s daughter due to her milking ability. For example, if bull A has a milk EPD of +5 and bull B has a milk EPD of +2, all other things being equal, bull A’s daughters should produce calves that wean 3 pounds heavier than those from daughters of bull B due to extra milk production. There is some variation in the terminology used by different breed associations in reporting maternal EPDs. An explanation of maternal EPDs is included in a breed’s sire summary.
Producing extra milk requires that a cow consumes extra protein and energy. High milk production can affect a cow’s ability to breed back after calving. For this reason, selecting for maximum milk production is not a good idea in most commercial herds.
The cattle industry produces cattle of all breeds, sizes, ages and quality. There is a market for all of them. However, if you sell feeder calves or feed out your own cattle, consider the following points:
Good quality cattle eat no more feed than low quality cattle and are just as efficient at converting feed to beef.
Bulls should generally have a muscling score of one and be medium plus to large minus framed, according to the USDA feeder calf standards (Table 1). Such calves will bring a higher price than lower grade calves.
Low quality cattle with poor conformation usually are more subject to price declines in years of over production than are high quality cattle. Small framed cattle mature early and are slow, inefficient gainers if fed past maturity.
Hip height in inches is used to give an indication of frame size. Most bull test stations and a large percentage of purebred breeders will have a yearling hip height for each animal. Table 1 gives the ranges of hip height as they relate to mature frame size. Remember, taller cattle do not necessarily grow faster or more efficiently, but they do have a later maturity pattern. Small-framed cattle are discounted in Georgia markets. A bull needs to have enough frame to produce calves that are at least USDA Medium.
Table 1. Hip height relative to mature frame size
7-month hip height (in)
12-month hip height (in)
Potential slaughter weight
First calf heifers have the most calving problems, so buying a bull with a low birth weight EPD is extremely important when the bull is to be used on heifers. Birth weight is the single most important trait that influences calving difficulty. While many cattlemen look at actual birth weights on bulls, birth weight EPDs are the most accurate measure of a bull?s potential calving ease.
Many breeds report Calving Ease EPDs that are calculated using birth weight and calving scores. These can also be helpful in selecting bulls. Refer to the breed association?s sire summary for a description of how these are reported for a particular breed.
Research indicates that yearling bulls with large testicles sire daughters that show estrus at an earlier age than bulls with smaller testicles. Be sure the bull you select has a scrotal circumference that is at least 30 cm at 1 year of age.
Physical and Semen Evaluation
If the bull you are considering buying is 12 months or older ask for a physical and semen examination. This can be done by the local veterinarian and will increase your confidence that the bull will be able to settle cows.
Breed associations report EPDs for many other traits and this large volume of information can be overwhelming to the bull buyer, so focus on the basics listed above. You do not have to understand every aspect to be able to select a good commercial bull. When you become comfortable with the basics, consult the breed association website for updates on the most recent developments.
How Much “Bull-Power” Do I Need?
Several factors can help determine the number of cows that can be bred to one bull.
The number of cows per bull will vary with the bull’s age, condition and libido. Use an adequate number of bulls with good libidos. Bulls should be in good body condition, but not fat, at the beginning of the breeding season. Young, growing bulls may require extra feed during the breeding season to meet their protein and energy needs. A yearling bull should not be expected to breed more than 20 to 25 cows, while a mature bull with large testicles, good semen and good libido can breed 25 to 40 or more cows.
You cannot expect fat or thin bulls to perform up to the standards of properly conditioned bulls. Poor nutrition can influence semen quality. Fat bulls lack the stamina to breed enough cows.
Length of Breeding Season
Length of the calving season and number of calves born during each 21 day period of the calving season does have some influence on the number of cows that can be bred to one bull. Mature bulls can breed up to 40 cows during a 60- to 90-day breeding period and sire a high percentage of these calves in the first 40 days of the calving season. If cows are run in large groups, two bulls that are the same age and breed could run with 80 cows.
An artificial insemination (AI) program will not require as many bulls, but the quality of the bulls turned out after the AI period needs to be very high to ensure against poorer quality calves than the AI sired calves. Have a short AI program, no longer than 40 days, and then turn out the cleanup bulls.
Other Factors to Consider when Buying a Bull
The bull you buy should be functionally sound — a good breeder with a long life ahead — and he should be structurally correct, with sound feet and legs and strong pasterns.
The bull should not have swollen joints and should be able to move freely and easily.
The bull should not be extremely nervous. A bull with a mean disposition is difficult to handle and he may pass on his nervousness to his offspring.
Be sure you do not buy disease when you buy a bull. Request a copy of the bull’s health record. Place new bulls in an isolation paddock where you can observe them for 30 days before putting them with the herd.
Where to Buy a Bull
Many top cattlemen think where to buy a bull is the most important choice involved in their purchase. You need to know that records of birth dates, rate of gain, weaning weights and health conditions of a bull are just as the seller says. You need to know that the breeder will live up to his responsibilities. It has been said that records and pedigrees are as good or as poor as the integrity of the breeder. Here are some recommendations:
Buy from a breeder whose integrity is above reproach.
Buy from someone who has complete performance records on his cattle, and knows what those records mean.
Buy from a place where you know the type of management under which the bulls were produced.
Buy bulls from central test stations where all records are available.
Buy bulls from performance oriented producer sales.
Buy bulls from breed association sponsored sales.
Using Artificial Insemination
Artificial insemination increases your chances of promoting the important traits. Since many of the bulls in the AI studs have a great number of progeny with performance records, you can predict more accurately what their calves’ performances will be in your herd. AI services also screen their bulls closely for any undesirable traits.
Whether you breed your cows by AI or not is a decision you must make based on your own labor and management situation. However, you can consider AI as one method of “buying a bull.”
Selecting a Bull for Crossbreeding
It is just as important to select bulls for a crossbreeding program based on traits that are heritable as it is for other breeding systems. You can improve your herd by careful selection and produce hybrid vigor at the same time.
Determining a Bull’s Worth
It is very difficult to predict the dollar value of a particular bull; however, the following factors can affect a bull’s value:
The number of calves the bull may sire.
The performance level of the herd on which the bull is to be used. Almost any good bull will improve the performance of a poor herd, while only very superior bulls can help a high performing herd.
The type of breeding system you select. Purebred breeders can usually justify a higher bull investment than can commercial producers.
Selecting and buying a herd bull is the quickest way to make genetic improvement in your herd. The selection process must include looking for those traits that are economically important and highly heritable. Your own herd records are necessary if you are to select a bull that will improve your genetic base. Demand and buy bulls with total performance that will improve your herd.
Status and Revision History
Published on Jul 01, 1994
In Review on Feb 03, 2009
In Review for Major Revisions on Feb 03, 2009
Unpublished/Removed on Jul 03, 2012
Published with Minor Revisions on Jul 25, 2012
Published with Full Review on Mar 31, 2017
Editor’s note: The following is part one 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.
There are a range of different beef operations in Canada, and there is no one breeding program that is optimal for all operations. Breeding programs will be determined by operational goals and the management practices that fit those goals.
Here are some examples.
A producer that sells weaned calves at auction may choose a crossbreed program with high calving ease and a focus on performance gained from hybrid vigour; or they may prefer the uniformity of a purebred program with reputation premiums.
A producer that retains heifers and is looking for maternal replacements may be focused on maximizing the performance through inbreeding and outcrossing within a single breed; or they may develop FI crosses with higher reproductive performance and longevity.
These choices may be limited by the number of breeding fields available or the number a producer is willing to manage. There are a variety of breeding programs available, and effective sire selection requires an understanding of the characteristics of the available genetics as well as your own operation.
Each breed of cattle has distinct traits that allow them to excel in different geographical or management environments (Table 1). Depending on the goals of the operation, a sire can be chosen that has the potential to make positive changes for your operation in the areas you’ve identified for improvement.
Table 1. Comparison between beef cattle breeds in Canada (Adapted from Agriculture Victoria, 2017)
The advantage of the purebred or straight-bred approach of using only one breed is a homogeneous herd where cattle responses to environmental and nutritional factors are easier to predict. There will be consistency in nutritional needs, weaning, yearling, or finishing weights, and days on feed. The largest advantage is the ability to market a relatively uniform product, but ease of planning, and providing breeding stock forcommercial operations intending to maximize hybrid vigour may also be considerations.
When the parents have very similar genetics, the calf is more likely to have two sets of identical genes (homozygosity), which can have beneficial effects if the genes are associated with superior performance. However, negative traits can also show up with homozygosity. This can lead to the expression of abnormal traits, such as lethal recessives (e.g. curly calf syndrome, dwarfism, neuropathic hydrocephalus, etc.) It can also have more subtle effects on overall performance by increasing the amount “inbreeding depression” in the population.
Inbreeding depression is a reduction in performance due to the mating of highly related individuals, and it most negatively affects reproductive traits, followed by growth traits, but seems to have little effect on carcass traits. It is associated with an increased percent of open cows and stillbirths, with decreased levels of survival, growth, and overall performance (Northcutt et al). Generally, caution must be exercised when inbreeding as there is a high risk of performance reduction if the breeding program is not managed very carefully.
Three common purposes of inbreeding are to:
to test a bull for the presence of undesirable genetics that show up with inbreeding
develop inbred lines for a crossbreeding system
linebreed, or to maintain the genetic contribution of a genetically superior individual in the larger population
Linebreeding seeks to preserve and continually improve upon the genetics of a high performing ancestor. While linebreeding mates closely related individuals, it seeks to minimize the level of homozygosity (and thus inbreeding depression) while maintaining a high level of relationship to the high performing ancestor. Linebreeding is typically merited when there is difficulty finding outside bulls with sufficient performance to improve the herd.
Key components of a successful linebreeding program include:
individuals selected for a linebreeding program must be of superior quality with no genetic defects
meticulous record keeping of breeding history, parentage records, and animal performance
aggressive culling at signs of defects or lower performance – the starting herd should be as large as possible to accommodate aggressive culling
keeping inbreeding levels low
To keep inbreeding levels low, the recommendation is to keep the genetic contribution of the same ancestor to 50% or less (van der Westhuizen, 2016). To illustrate, the progeny of mating a daughter to her sire will have 75% of genetics from the sire. Generally, matings that involve full siblings and parents to offspring are discouraged. Instead, matings of uncle/niece, half siblings, and first cousins are potential strategies.
Outcrossing, or the breeding to non-relatives or distant relatives (i.e., at least 4 generations away) within a breed, is the most widely used mating strategy in purebred herds. Outcrossing can be used to increase performance levels, avoid inbreeding depression, and restore performance lost to inbreeding depression (Evans and McPeake). The more genetically dissimilar the animals, the larger the potential benefit. One drawback of this system is that, if the outcrossed progeny were to be mated, it is more difficult to predict the phenotype of the calves due to the variation in genetic background.
With crossbreeding, cattle from different breeds are mated. As the genetics from both parents can be very different, both the positive and negative effects seen in outcrossing are magnified with crossbreeding. Crossbred herds are much more unpredictable in terms of calf weight, maturity time, and nutritional demands. However, there are two key advantages:
Heterosis orHybrid vigor – this is the opposite of the performance reducing effects of inbreeding depression. Heterosis provides improvements, especially in the area of reproduction and growth. The effect of hybrid vigor is dependent on the animal having two different copies of a gene, where the more unrelated the breeds, the larger the potential improvements.
Breed complementarity – where the strengths of two different breeds are combined. For example, when mating Charolais bulls to Hereford-Angus crossbred cows, the Charolais bull contributes growth and performance genetics, while the Hereford-Angus cows have desirable maternal and carcass quality attributes. This may not be seen in every individual animal, but is observed in herd averages.
Studies (Gaines et al., 1966; Turner et al., 1968) have found that compared to purebred, crossbred cows have a 10% increase in calf crop and calves weaned, with the calving percentage of the crossbred cows being consistently higher than their parents. Gregory et al. (1978) found crossbred cattle to be 7 kg heavier and 9 days younger at puberty than their purebred counterparts.
Crossbreeding improves reproductive performance, longevity, and maternal ability of the cow. This is manifested through increased calf survival rate, as well as increased weaning weight. Overall, the performance improvements from crossbreeding can have significant impacts on the bottom line of beef producers.
There are many crossbreeding strategies, for example:
2 or 3 breed rotation,
bull rotation, or
A terminal cross is where both parents are purebreds of different breeds, and the resulting calves are a 50:50 mix. However, to maintain this specific breed ratio, replacement breeding stock from purebred herds must be used instead of rebreeding the offspring.
Another strategy is mixed breeds, where multiple breeds are used without maintaining specific ratios of each breed in the progeny. While this strategy does not require complex breeding management, there is lower uniformity and a higher level of uncertainty regarding calf performance.
The optimal strategy will depend on the operation itself; for example, if calves are sold at a pre-sort sale or are part of a large group and able to fill an entire feedlot pen, uniformity becomes less important.
For further reading on crossbreeding, NBCEC (2010) introduces an overview of different strategies and Gosey (1991) presents a more in-depth discussion.
There are also challenges and considerations associated with a crossbreeding system (NBCEC, 2010):
a small herd (i.e., less than 50 cows) can limit choice in crossbreeding strategies
a higher requirement for breeding pastures and bull breeds for the more complex crossbreeding strategies (e.g., rotational systems)
more record keeping and cow identification as the current breed composition of cows can affect sire and heifer replacement selection
less uniformity in progeny
no crossbreeding system can overcome low quality bulls
There is no one-size-fits-all solution or breeding program that is best for all scenarios, as the right genetics depend on the individual operation. Key determining factors include: the management style of the operation, heifer retention (i.e., terminal versus maternal sires), number of breeding fields, and time of marketing. For example, a farm that auctions their calves at weaning may choose a mixed breed program with high calving ease, while a farm that direct markets their beef may prefer the uniformity of a purebred program.
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.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for part two in this four-part series.
Robert Wells for Progressive CattlemanPublished on 24 January 2019
Prescribed fire is a common practice to help control brush in native grass pastures. Those who implement prescribed fire will spend numerous hours and dollars preparing for this practice before it is implemented.
A prescribed fire will have an impact on the ranch for three to five years.
In contrast, a bull purchase decision will have an impact on the ranch for as long as his genetics are represented in the herd. If replacements from a particular sire are kept, his influence will outlive him on the ranch. It amazes me that most producers do not put as much thought and effort into sire selection as they will a prescribed fire.
The influence of a sire will have just as much or more of an impact on the ranch economics for years.
Numerous decisions and processes should occur before writing the check for a new bull. Start early in order to give yourself enough time to work through the process. First, a producer needs to define his or her ranch goals and how the new bull will help to meet those goals. It is difficult for a bull to excel in every trait, and the few that do are too costly for the average commercial cattleman to buy and use for natural service.
Will the bull be used as a terminal or maternal sire? Once the decision is made on how the bull will be used, the producer should pick the breed to use and find the bull within the breed that meets their goals.
After the bull breed has been decided upon, it is time to do the early “homework” before you go to the seller’s ranch. Identify the reputable breeders in your region from whom you might purchase a bull. Request sale catalogs or registration numbers, date of birth and EPDs (expected progeny differences).
The easiest method I have found to handle the large amount of data you will sort through is to develop a spreadsheet with all the data from each bull. This allows you the ability to sort data numerous ways and easily filter out those bulls that do not meet your criteria.
Go to the breed website and look up the percentile rank tables for nonparent bulls. By doing so, you will be able to determine the relative quality of the bull for each trait. This gives you perspective as to how good and bad a bull is for each EPD trait.
I call this process “judging class on paper.” Consider the actual weights, but do not let them solely dictate your final decision. EPDs are more reliable than individual values as management can have a dramatic impact on birth, weaning and yearling weights; marbling scores; and backfat measurements.
Once you arrive on-site, you will now have a short list of bulls to phenotypically consider. Finally, a realistic price should be set on the value of the bulls you will consider. Base your purchase price on how the EPDs of interest will increase your profit potential for that bull. Some traits, like performance traits, are easier to determine the value, such as weaning or yearling weight.
Here is an example of how to place an economic value to a bull. Angus bull A has a weaning weight EPD of 67 (10th percentile). The breed weaning weight average is 52 (50th percentile). Bull A should sire calves that will be 15 pounds heavier than the average Angus bull. This bull will sire 125 calves over five years (bred to 25 cows for five years). Multiply the additional 15 pounds by 125 calves.
The result is an additional 1,875 pounds of weaning weight. If a modest value of gain of $1.35 per pound is used, the additional lifetime weaning weight from the better sire is worth $2,531.
Now, you can add this number to the average price for bulls in your area to determine the maximum bid price for this bull. If the average bull value is $2,250 plus $2,531, the breakeven for this bull would be $4,781. Assuming calves are sold at weaning in this scenario, anything less than $4,781 for the purchase price will be the profit potential of the bull.
The same calculations can be performed for all performance, carcass traits or index traits. This calculation does not take into account the intrinsic additional value you may receive for a better-perceived quality calf, such as selling a No. 1 versus a No. 2 quality calf.
Now that the homework is done, it is time to go to the bull sale and evaluate the bulls physically. Only consider the bulls on your short list. Do not deviate from the hard work you have done before sale day. The best bull on paper may be a structural nightmare and should not be bought.
Be extremely critical, and do not allow for deformities or structurally incorrect bulls. When physically judging the bull, start at the hooves and legs, then work your way up to the rest of the body. The bull should have good angles at the fetlock, hocks, shoulder and hip. A bull that has structurally incorrect legs (post-legged, sickle-hocked, etc.) will not last long in the herd.
Move the bull around and make him walk out to ensure he has a smooth, long stride and is not lame. Evaluate him from all sides – front, back and the side. This part is especially difficult with video auctions since most sale videos are short and only provide the side perspective. I once had an order buyer tell me he looks for calves that have “lots of butt and lots of guts.” Find the bull that has the most body capacity and is balanced.
Think of a rectangle. You want the body to be balanced, and as long, deep and wide as possible. You want a bull that will sire this type of calf. Likewise, disposition should be evaluated to ensure the bull will be amicable when you handle him.
Finally, the buyer should consider or beware of certain things when at the sale location. Make sure to pick up any supplemental sale sheets as lot numbers or data associated with a given bull may have changed. Sale day announcements will take precedence over any written information in the catalog.
Confirm the lot number of the bull in the ring before you start bidding, as a lot number may be skipped. Listen closely to the bidding process, as it will move very quickly. If you are not a seasoned bidder, sit close enough to the ring man that he can tell you where the bid price is at – do not hesitate to ask for confirmation.
In addition, for the inexperienced buyer, let another person set the opening bid. Determine the bid increment the auctioneer is using; typically, it will be in increments of $250 or $500. Try to get in on the bidding so you will be able to have the last bid at your maximum price. It is never a good feeling for a bull to sell to someone else at your maximum bid price, as you will wonder if you could have bid that value, would you have been able to get the bull bought.
Additionally, find out if the bull has passed a breeding soundness exam prior to the sale and any other health tests, such as a negative test status for Johne’s disease or persistent infection of bovine viral diarrhea virus (PI-BVDV).
Finally, know what guarantee comes with the bull. Will the seller honor the bull through the first breeding season or first year; if so, for what conditions? Most breed associations define a sound breeding bull as the bull only has to settle one cow in six months’ time. Is this the definition the seller will use, or does he have his own breeding guarantee terms?
Much planning and preparation should go into the purchase of a new bull. When possible, make a planned decision as to when the bull exits your program, and start the search early for his replacement. If you have a spring-breeding herd, when possible, look for his replacement in the fall. This will give you many opportunities to find the right bull at the right price.
Remember, the last bull in the sale is not the last bull for sale in the region. Do not lock yourself into a must-buy situation from any one seller. Doing so will only lead to a costly mistake. Prior planning will result in quality performance of the bull, and you will not be the person who is making a purchase decision “on the fly” while the bull is in the sale ring.
PHOTO: When observing a bull, try to envision a rectangle. You want the body to be balanced, and as long, deep and wide as possible. You want a bull that will sire this type of calf. Photo courtesy of Noble Research Institute.
Determining what size of cow is ideal for the environment is a hot topic. It depends on the environment, the ranch, and sometimes the rancher. What is even harder is settling on a certain size of cow, and maintaining it.
University of Wyoming Extension Rangeland Specialist Derek Scasta shared a story about his grandfather’s struggles to maintain cow size in his own herd. “What we have is a lot of information to go through,” Scasta told producers during the recent Southeast Wyoming Beef Production convention. “When my grandfather would go to a bull sale, he was looking for EPDs for low birth weight and higher weaning weight, but he may have ignored the maternal traits, and then kept the higher end of the heifer calves for replacements,” he said. The result over time was larger cows.
Looking at the bull’s maternal EPDs will indicate how the heifer calves will look, Scasta said. The bull may have had a positive EPD for milk and mature size, producing larger daughters. “That is why you really need to sort through the bull catalog and look at those EPDs,” he said.
In 1975, the average beef cow in the U.S. weighed 1,000 pounds, which became the range management standard for calculating animal unit months. However, recent data suggests the average beef cow now weighs 1,400 pounds. “In 2010, 16 percent of the U.S. beef cows were more than 1,500 pounds,” Scasta said. “That’s millions of beef cows that weigh more than 1,500 pounds on range and pasture in the U.S.”
Despite a more than 400 pound increase in cow size in the last 40 years, Scasta said no evidence exists to suggest that increase has resulted in weaning larger calves. “We have enhanced the production and performance potential of cows, but we may not be realizing that in terms of calf weaning weight,” he said.
The EPD for yearling weight has increased 100 pounds in the Angus breed, which basically shows ranchers have been selecting for growth in cattle. In 1985, the average carcass weight was 725 pounds, and in 2015, it was 892 pounds, which is 165 pounds larger. “Cattle are basically 20 percent heavier than 35 years ago, and 10 percent heavier than 15 years ago,” he said.
With that amount of growth has come some negatives in relation to animal welfare. Cattle pots were originally designed to haul smaller cattle. “With these bigger cattle, a lot of them will bump their back going into that lower deck, which leaves a bruise on their back leading to a cut out. It is costing the industry $35 million a year because the cattle are bigger today than what the trailers were originally designed for,” Scasta said.
It is not just a matter of muscle growth. Ranchers have also selected for milk production. “As we have enhanced the performance of our cattle, what has been happening to rangeland? Actually, rangeland has stayed pretty flat despite the production potential of cattle increasing. We have managed to optimize what we get from the range, and it has stayed pretty consistent over time,” he said. “Ranchers have done a good job of matching their cattle genetics with range productivity.”
Scasta said there is a lot of disagreement over optimum cow size. Some studies suggest smaller cows are better because of live weight production and income, while others find larger cows to be more efficient because they have a larger rumen which could be an advantage for the efficiency of processing low quality forages.
A lot of the data available comes from feeding trials, where they did a lot of modeling, Scasta said. “What I found was a lot of mixed studies, and a lack of information in Wyoming,” he said.
Do larger cows wean larger calves?
One study he shared that was published in the Journal of Animal Science, studied how cow size impacts calf weaning weights relative to precipitation extremes. The four-year study involved 80 cows grazing rangeland northwest of Laramie.
The study showed that during the driest years, the larger cows had an advantage, and the smaller cows weaned lighter calves. However, the results were opposite during wet years, and variable during average years. “Taking the average of all four years into account, they found no significant difference in terms of cow size class,” Scasta said. “Smaller cows weaned calves statistically similar to those weaned from the bigger cows, riding the roller coaster of wet-dry-wet-dry,” he said. Calculating the input-output ratio, which is the pounds of grass consumed relative to the pounds of calf weaned, the smaller cows were weaning similar size calves across all wet-dry cycles, Scasta said, while eating less because their nutritional requirements were lower.
A 1,000 pound cow consumed 7½ pounds of grass per pound of weaned calf, according to the study. For a 1,200 pound cow that number jumped to 8½ pounds, and for 1,400 pound cow, it was 9½ pounds. “Basically, the larger cows had to eat more per pound of calf weaned,” he said. “Most ranchers have an efficiency target for the cow weaning a calf that is at least 50 percent of the cow’s body weight. So, a 1,000 pound cow should wean at least a 500 pound calf. In this study, the smaller cows were the only ones to reach that target,” Scasta said.
In another study, Scasta worked with a Wyoming ranch to analyze 8,000 cow/calf records with 13 years of data to determine which cow size is most efficient. The cow size on this ranch varied from 800 to 1,600 pounds, but the majority of the cows weighed 1,100 to 1,300 pounds, Scasta said.
From this data, Scasta found that the smaller to moderate size cows were closer to hitting the 50 percent cow size to weaning weight target, compared to their larger counterparts. “The 1,600 pound cows were actually pretty inefficient for the amount of grass they eat,” he said. “I think the data indicates managing for moderate size cows, and to not let them get bigger over time.” ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Last month I wrote about heifer development, suggesting methods different from those typically used. I have since been wondering about the bulls used by most ranchers who produce their own replacement heifers. Are those bulls “undoing” most of what the producer is trying to accomplish with his heifer development and selection practices?
Looking back into my own history of cattle breeding, I have become convinced that most of us ranchers have been using terminal matings across our entire herd, except for heifers, since the early 70s when the continental breeds started to arrive in the U.S. It was an easy way to get a nice increase in weaning weight.
Related: Burke Teichert’s top 5 tips on bull selection
At about the same time, progeny testing was becoming popular and many of us got caught up in a race for higher and higher weaning weights which was further facilitated by the advent of EPDs. We did get higher weaning weights because we could always find a bull with a little more growth.
We were making terminal matings. The problem was that we weren’t doing terminal marketing. We were keeping those heifer calves as replacement heifers. So, cow size and milk production kept increasing. And stocking rate was decreasing or purchased feed was increasing.
Related: Burke’s Challenge: Find a better way to ranch
I see no problem with ranchers deciding to use only terminal matings if they sell all of their calves—steers and heifers. In fact, I think many producers would be well advised to do exactly that.
It is easy to find good bulls for terminal matings. Current EPDs lend themselves well to selection for growth and carcass traits. I know a good number of breeders who buy replacement cows, make terminal matings and sell all of the calves.
The cows are just cows—nothing special. But the calves have a great potential for growth and carcass performance. They are nicely profitable. What if the cows were something special—coming from well-developed maternal herds?
Now, where are the bulls for the maternal breeders who are making their own replacement heifers, perhaps with the idea of having some bred cows to sell? These bulls are difficult to find.
Most of the EPDs available are not for maternal traits except as limiters—reducing cow size and milk, keeping growth in a moderate range, balancing maternal calving ease and calving ease direct, etc. Moderation of size, milk, growth and muscle seem to make better long-term mother cows.
The use of selection indices has some appeal. But when “supposed” strength in one trait can compensate for “supposed” weakness in another trait, what is an acceptable balance? When does high growth cause reduction in fertility or increase cow size (reduce stocking rate) in the next generation? At what level should milk production become a negative in the index?
I have asked a number of seedstock breeders those questions and only one had an answer; and I thought his level was too high—purely a guess on my part. What about epigenetic effects? This happens when environmental factors turn on or off (or possibly modify) gene effects. How much of that is heritable or not heritable?
While I like to get aggressive in the use of EPDs for terminal sire selection, for reasons cited, I am much more cautious in the use of EPDs to select bulls for maternal herds. “Moderate” needs to be defined for your ranch, but the range around “your moderate” cannot be too large for any trait.
Cows must become adapted to your environment and then be adaptable to year-to-year variation. Nature will tell you which cows to cull and which bulls to select; but you need to recognize which ones they are.
There are some physical traits that are important such as udder quality, ability to move and travel, ability to maintain body condition on grazed feed with minimal supplementation, feed intake capacity, etc.
Beyond these, I am reminded of a statement heard many years ago—“We need to quit telling cattle what to look like and, instead, tell them what we want them to do and then let them look the way they need to look in order to do what we want them to do.” Remember, we can’t ask them to do more than the environment will provide for and allow.
I think there are a few people who have learned what cows need to look like, but most of us don’t have that skill except for the very obvious. So, how do you choose a bull for maternal matings?
First, the bull must be born in the first 25 days of the calving season—ideally a result of first cycle conception. Then I like to know as much as possible about closely related females. What about their udders, what is their mobility, how about disposition, how long are they staying in the cow herd, what kind of calves do they produce, are they always healthy, etc.?
Fertility and longevity along with the ability to produce an acceptable calf are really what we are looking for in good cows. Bulls that make that kind of cow are hard to find. Bulls that make the good cows usually come from good cow families—dams, grand-dams, sisters, and daughters are almost all good.
I think that is the reason that a good number of successful commercial ranchers are producing their own bulls. They select bulls from their adapted cows that have always calved in the first cycle. The cow must have calved as a two-year-old and again as a three-year-old before a bull can be kept.
The bulls must have good weight in relationship to hip height at one year of age. They must pass a BSE at a year of age after minimal development. A few breeders are breeding their yearling heifers to their yearling bulls—only yearling bulls—then using DNA for parentage to know which bulls sired the most calves. That ought to check for a combination of fertility, libido and structural soundness at a young age.
To have a good maternal cow herd you must use bulls that are highly fertile, structurally sound, that will produce calves that have good growth (not outstanding) and are acceptable in the marketplace.
Welcome back to the “Final Sort Blog!” We need to talk efficiency folks! It’s all about getting MORE for LESS…working SMARTER…not HARDER!
In spite of the work done here at MBT, efficiency STILL seems to be elusive to some folks. We recently communicated about the efficiency of an unnamed herd. A tremendous number of assertions were being made, but there was no measurement of INPUTS! Now it is true that they had a great understanding who the “apparent” easy do-ers were in their herd, but they moved them right into the category of “efficient bulls.” Now we must agree! It is certainly nice to see those nice, soft, round sided calves at weaning. Those shiny buggers that pair growth and gain into a beautiful package that knocks your eyes out! We’ll take that any day, but we’ve said it once, and we’ll re-assert! The margin is in the middle…lodged right between the money you get and the money you give!
The whole conversation makes me think of two geldings Gus and Sam standing out under the big cottonwood tree swatting flies. Gus and Sam are nearly a matched pair, both golden in the summer sun, fat and a bit sassy. The only thing that separates Gus and Sam is a board fence that runs between the grass pasture that Gus stands in and the dry lot corral Sam lives in. Gus grazes nearly all day long until the summer sun blazes down when he finds relief under the big oak tree. Sam gets about three flakes of grass hay every morning and evening spending the majority of his day coveting Gus’s knee deep luscious green grass! Now I assure you, we think the world of Gus, but he’s just an easy keeper. Sam is able to maintain the same body condition on less! Hands down, Sam is the most efficient specimen in the herd! Efficiency happens when each pound gained requires less than average input and ‘ol Sam nails it!
The fallacy happens when folks only focus on the gross. It doesn’t matter if you gross your first million but you spent two million to make it happen. The same is true when we feed cattle. Here at Midland, we search out those individuals who require less feed (and therefore money) to gain each and every pound. That trait must be paired by the same animal with the ability to also out gain their contemporaries! That’s the combination we are looking for! Simply spoken, it’s doing more with less!
It is mighty hard to refocus our priorities when we’ve programed ourselves for years to seek those 650 pound weaning weights. Many a shiny bragging rights have accompanied those plump weaning weights here in our Big Sky country. Those plump shiny calves do paint a pretty picture as they trot across the scale. But! Consider this….here at Midland, we focus on achieving those same goals, all the while minimizing your feed costs.
Two bulls were tested at Midland and both came off the efficiency test at 1,100 lbs. Their stats are as follows:
Bull A – ADG 3.47, Dry Matter Intake 28.73 lbs/day, Feed to Gain Ratio 8.28 lbs of feed/lb of gain, RFI 3.90
Bull B – ADG 3.26, Dry Matter Intake 22.45 lbs/day, Feed to Gain Ratio 6.90 lbs of feed/lb of gain, RFI 2.77
Without measuring their inputs, it appears that the bulls performed almost identically with Bull A showing a slight advantage in the raw ADG. When the inputs are added to the equation, the picture changes radically! Bull B consumed 6.28 pounds per day less than Bull A marking a 21% difference! When we put the dollars and cents to it, that’s an $80-$120/head savings in the feedlot and $60-$80/year savings on daughters retained in the cow herd without impacting any weights of their calves!
We’re in a dog eat dog business and we can’t afford to have inefficiency unnecessarily inflating our costs by 21%; and we can’t afford to waste 21% of our grass, hay and silage! The dirt needed to produce that grass is simply too expensive to throw away 21% of the crop! And folks! That’s just the cost side! These savings create growth opportunity as that 21% is an unrealized opportunity allowing us to increase our carrying capacity and incremental revenue! Imagine if your retirement planner explained that you could earn an additional 21% return on your investments! We certainly wouldn’t leave that opportunity on the table!
Let me say that one more time! You have a choice! Efficient cattle will cut your incremental cost thereby increasing your margins. At the very same time, in a static environment, you will find that you are able to INCREASE your carrying capacity! Wow!
Long story short….fat does not equal efficiency and you can’t select for a trait unless you measure it! AND!!! EFFICIENCY PAYS!
Thank you Rachel Sutherlin for being our guest blogger! Rachel is completing her internship here at MBT this month. We sincerely appreciate her work at MBT and wish her the best of luck as she returns to her schooling!
Birth Weights… HOW LOW DO YOU GO!
We don’t want to give up power and torque when it comes to our vehicles because we expect optimal performance. So…why do we select for below average birth weights and not push our cows to the same standards of optimal performance? It is often said that too much of a good thing is bad? In light of low birth weights, have we pushed too far? Are they beginning to cost us too much? Have we passed that pinnacle point of diminishing returns? Where do we draw the line between low birth weights being a positive or negative attribute?
A dead calf is worth nothing…and no one wants to deal with a hard pull! Keeping birth weights in check is important; but, are we putting too much emphasis on a negative birth weight EPD? A cow should be able to deliver a calf weighing 7% of her body weight without assistance. If she can’t, send her to the cull pen? Recent trends are driving birth weights lower and lower resulting in much smaller calves… sometimes 60lb or less. Producers are paid by the pound at weaning or on the rail and those ultra small calves NEVER catch up! Why are we cutting ourselves short by not making our cows work for us?
If our goal is to save time and labor as we breed for small calves at birth; we must also assess how much extra work and effort a dink calf will require. A dink calf can cost many long hours in the calf warmer because they don’t get up on a cold nights; followed by hours in the maternity pen suckling because they can’t get the job done! The same dink calf may die because he is too weak to get up if he is born in the middle of the night. Sometimes theses calves aren’t big enough or strong enough to sustain those first few hours. What is the point of these ultra low birth weights if they result in exponentially higher labor costs and cause your death loss to sky rocket? You are then faced with the decision of breeding or culling those cows who lost their calf even though you purposefully bred her to produce that dink calf who was unstable to survive! You are essentially undermining the stay-ability of your mother cows by setting them up for failure.
We need to make our cattle work for us to minimize cost and effort! We must be especially mindful of undermining her ability. Using a low BW bull on a cow sired by a low BW bull can produce a smaller pelvis in her female progeny. As a result, you have just exacerbated your problem as the offspring will have an even harder time calving….even low birth weight calves. We must consider the big picture and the long-term effects to determine whether we are hurting or helping ourselves. Low birth weights are good for first time heifers and small framed cows; but, we need to push those bigger birth weights on cows to maximize our return….and they should be able to handle it!
We need to make our cows work for us. Don’t lose money on the first day! We have to focus on not turning these lower trending birth weights into a bad thing!
Before selecting a bull it is important that you have clear breeding objectives set for your herd. The following points should be used as a guide to determining your breeding objectives.
Traits of economic importance
Herd production targets
Current herd performance
Breeding goals and selection criteria
Estimated breeding values (EBVs) can be combined into a $Index EBV which effectively ranks available animals with all traits weighted according to their effect on the profit drivers for the herd.
Make sure you keep your selection criteria in mind when selecting a bull. It is important that you rank your selection criteria in priority order. This will help you make a choice between bulls that generally meet your selection criteria. For more information see Breeding objectives.
Select genetically docile bulls to increase the probability that progeny will be quieter, have higher growth rate and transport better.
Temperament can be measured using ‘flight time’ or scored using a crush or yard test. The flight speed measure provides a more accurate and heritable measure of the trait to modify herd performance. For more information see Improving temperament and flight time.
Veterinary Bull Breeding Soundness Evaluation or BULLCHECK™
The Veterinary Bull Breeding Soundness Evaluation (VBBSE) was developed by the Australian Cattle Veterinarians to standardise bull fertility testing and to provide a consistent descriptor of bull fertility.
The report indicates whether a bull has met a set of standards for five bull fertility components. The components of fertility assessed are those that indicate whether a bull has a high probability, but not a guarantee, of being fertile.
The two components of the VBBSE are:
a) A summary of the five indicative components of bull fertility (see example below)
AACV Top of the Rack
b) A full report that identifies the bull, date of testing and by whom, where and comments associated with each test. A summary of the five components of bull fertility in the BBSE follows:
Scrotum – Scrotal circumference/size (SS) in centimetres (cm) where testes shape is within normal range. The current recommendations for tropically adapted bulls are a minimum scrotal size of 32cm (and average is 34–36cm) for a two-year-old bull.
Physical – Within the constraints of a standard examination, there is no evidence of any general physical/structural condition or of a physical condition of the reproductive tract indicating sub-fertility or infertility. This evaluation will identify structurally unsound bulls in legs, feet, sheath and general structure.
Semen – Crush-side assessment indicates that the semen is within normal range for motility, colour and per cent progressively motile and is suitable for laboratory evaluation.
Morphology – Semen examination of per cent normal sperm using high power magnification to ensure minimum standards for normal function are achieved.
Serving – The bull is able to serve normally as demonstrated in a standard test and shows no evidence of fertility limiting defects.
an indication of a bulls ability to mount and serve a cow/heifer and includes both reproductive and structural soundness (legs, feet, sheath, penis and overall anatomy)
a measure of the sex drive (libido) or eagerness of a male to seek out a female on heat
an indication of the subsequent pregnancy rates achieved following a restricted mating period (more particularly in Bos taurus breeds).
The summary table (like the example) will indicate:
For this component, the bull met the fertility standards as published by the Australian Association of Cattle Veterinarians
The bull did not meet the standards for this fertility component
Not Applicable e.g. certificate not required to indicate status for this fertility component
This fertility component was not fully tested/evaluated
(For Morphology only). The samples taken do not meet the full standards but indicate that the bull is very likely to be fertile under natural mating P=>50% and <70% N. Seek advice from your cattle vet. A ü = >70% Normal
Estimated Breeding Values
Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) are predictions of an animal’s genetic merit, based on available performance data on the individual and its relatives.
BREEDPLAN EBVs are expressed in the units of measurement for each particular trait. They are shown as positive or negative differences from the breed base (or breed average). EBVs provide the best basis for the comparison of the genetic merit of animals reared in different environments and management conditions. EBVs can only be used to compare animals within the same breed.
The differences in EBVs between animals are more important than the absolute value of the EBV. Particular animals should be viewed as being ‘above breed average’ for a particular trait only if their EBVs are better than the average EBVs of all animals born in their year drop.
EBVs are published for a range of traits including fertility, growth and carcase merit. When using EBVs to assist in selection decisions it is important to achieve a balance between the different traits and to place emphasis on those traits that are important to your herd, your markets, and your environment.
Calving Ease Traits
Calving ease is an important economic trait because of its impact on calf and heifer mortality, labour and veterinary expenses at calving time, and subsequent re-breeding performance of female cattle.
Calving Ease (DIRECT) EBVs
Calving Ease (DIR) EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in their ability as a direct effect of the sire. The EBVs are reported as differences in the percentage unassisted calvings. Higher, more positive, Calving Ease (DIR) EBVs are more favourable.
Calving Ease (DTRS (daughters)) EBVs
Calving Ease (DTRS) EBVs indicates the genetic differences for calving ease of an animals daughters. The EBVs are reported as differences in the percentage unassisted calvings. Higher, more positive, Calving Ease (DTRS) EBVs are more favourable.
Gestation Length EBVs
Gestation Length EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in the number of days from the date of conception until the calf birth date. Lower, or more negative, Gestation Length EBVs are generally more favourable. This EBV is only available where the mating and calving dates are known.
Birth Wt EBVs
Birth Wt EBVs are estimates of genetic differences between animals in kg of calf birth weight. Small, or moderate, Birth Wt EBVs are more favourable.
Fertility is a critical component influencing the profitability of a breeding herd. EBVs are provided for two fertility traits – Days to Calving and Scrotal Size. These traits contribute important information to assist in making breeding decisions to maintain herd fertility.
Days to Calving EBVs
Days to Calving (DC) EBVs are estimates of genetic differences in fertility, expressed as the number of days from the start of the joining period until subsequent calving. Lower, or more negative for Days to Calving EBVs are more favourable.
Scrotal Size EBVs
Scrotal Size EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in scrotal circumference at 400 days of age. Larger, or more positive, Scrotal Size EBVs are more favourable.
EBVs are provided for three growth traits: 200-Day Wt, 400-Day Wt and 600-Day Wt. Selection for growth traits should be relative to the target market weights.
200-Day Wt EBVs
200-Day Wt EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in weight at 200 days of age. Larger, more positive, 200-Day Wt EBVs are generally more favourable.
400-Day Wt EBVs
400-Day Wt EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in weight at 400 days of age. Larger, more positive, 400-Day Wt EBVs are generally more favourable.
600-Day Wt EBVs
600-Day Wt EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in liveweight at 600 days of age. Larger, more positive, 600-Day Wt EBVs are generally more favourable.
Mature Cow Wt EBVs
Mature cow weight is recorded at the time the calf is weaned and taken over up to five calvings. It is an indication of the mature weight of the breeders and should be related to the nutrition available on the property.
Carcase Weight EBVs
Carcase weight EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in hot standard carcase weight at 650 days of age. Larger, more positive, Carcase Weight EBVs are more favorable.
Eye Muscle Area (EMA) EBVs
EMA EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in eye muscle area (cm2) at the 12/13th rib site on a 300kg carcase. Larger, more positive, EMA EBVs are generally more favourable.
Rib Fat EBVs
Rib Fat EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in fat depth (mm) at the 12/13th rib site, on a 300kg carcase. Rib Fat EBVs are used to change the progeny fat levels relative to the market specifications.
Rump Fat EBVs
Rump Fat EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in fat depth at the P8 rump site on a standard 300kg carcase. Rump Fat EBVs are used to change the progeny fat levels relative to the market specifications.
Retail Beef Yield % (RBY%) EBVs
RBY% EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in percentage retail beef yield in a 300kg carcase, with 2–3mm fat trim, adjusted to 85% chemical lean. Larger, more positive, RBY % values are more favourable.
Intra-Muscular Fat % (IMF%) EBVs
IMF% EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in percentage intra-muscular fat (marbling) in a 300kg carcase. Depending on the market targets, positive IMF% EBVs may be more favourable.
Other issues to consider
This is a developing science and provides a key for the future. Markers are now available for Marbling and Tenderness traits. This technology has potential to identify animals carrying the desired markers, but may not provide its fullest benefit until further markers are identified for many traits.
Net Feed Efficiency (NFI)
Net Feed Efficiency (NFI) identifies animals that are more efficient converters of available feed to kg of liveweight gain. A negative EBV for NFI will provide the opportunity for producers to select more efficient animals.
Set your ‘breeding objectives’
Select only genetically docile bulls (flight time test preferable)
Ask for a Veterinary Bull Breeding Soundness Evaluation (VBBSE) before sale
Research BREEDPLAN EBVs (available on line before sale).
Summary table for buyers to ‘fill in’ with their bull selections and associated data for comparisons in advance of auctions commencing.
Humbled is how we come to you today; but humored as well. We are so incredibly thankful for the beautiful illustrations of humanity that we work and walk with in this life’s business. They are great people…the best in fact! These folks that we admire are tenacious (or is it stubborn?), hard-working (or is it hard-headed?), convicted (or is it “strongly” opinionated?), visionary and forward thinking (unless you are looking down the road from the opposite direction; then they’re just plain backward!) You get the picture! These vibrant strands of humanity woven throughout our industry are as subject to perception as any other sector of humanity….and let me tell you…sometimes they really do embrace their humanity…aaahhhhum! With that vibrant picture painted before your keenly lit eyes, I introduce you to two sectors of our industry: the purebred/registered breeder and the commercial cattlemen. Before I delve into the characteristics of these two sectors, I must warn you that I am going to be a bit precocious ribbing each of them as I reconcile their uniquely perceived interests into one common interest of success! (So, whichever group you belong to, please know that I intend to give you a little rub as I have a bit of fun with you!)
Introducing the purebred/registered breeder! Our industry is truly indebted to the visionary cattlemen who are geneticists, scientists and those who have the desire to build the best bovine that has ever graced God’s green earth! We like them round, sound and low to the ground and we like them pretty! Nice feet, wedged just right, pretty udders, perfect angles and doe-like faces with lashes like Bambi! These cattlemen are generally plagued with passion that cause wives and daughters to be envious of Lucky Lucy Loo #302! These folks are some of our brightest and best on every level. A few subtle years ago, these folks challenged heaven and earth (in and out of the show-ring!) as they began breeding for the better bovine with their eyes focused intently on quality and profitability. That passion gave rise to relative bench-marking, tracking of statistics, creation of performance associations, development of indexes, and creation of EPD’s. In today’s climate, many pass over the cow’s production records for gestation, weaning weights, birth weights and fertility. Instead, they look almost exclusively at EPD’s or gnomics; and, have forgotten that “function must fit the form!” Great numbers will not result in great cows if they are not designed to thrive in the intended environment. The notion of exclusively or predominantly looking at the numbers, which are mere expected performance guesses, has led to the eventual demise of evaluating “Betsy on the hoof” and the equally eventual evolution of the PAPER cow.
In this world of $500,000 cows, shiny auction blocks, polished people and beautiful…. beautiful papers, it seems as though the cow and her eventual offspring are oft forgotten! Additionally, in this world, one could argue that we have moved to that precarious place where we are breeding paper instead of cows at all…and, in fact, the phenotype of the cow may in fact be a poorly conceived after-thought. Here lies the birth of the perils that cause us to cringe. Our industry is fraught with beautiful pedigrees accompanied by bad feet including corkscrew claw, long toes and short flat heels. Equally prolific are structural compromises such as straight shoulders and post-y hips, bad bags, raised, sloped tail heads and small pelvises. Lastly we have the specimen who is unable to maintain a consistent breed back or who does not display maternal characteristics that will lend to care free calving. Based on the beauty of the pedigrees, the trendy names and novelty of the numbers, however, these characteristics are overlooked and Betsy Be Gone dodges the cull gate again and again. On some outfits, she is excused on that occasional year when she doesn’t raise a calf; she gets a much needed pedicure each fall; and, she slowly evolves from a spring calver to a fall calver and back to a spring calver as the calving date slips ever so slightly each and every year. But…you must understand, the numbers are simply beautiful! Fortunately the gifted minds and convictions of our forefathers in this cattle building business have persevered! Most of our breeders are performance based cattlemen who understand what makes a cow herd work; and, what traits are important to the cattleman!
Now, before you rain hell and fire in my direction, let’s have a bit of fun with the commercial cattleman and I assure you, we’ll eventually weave this tale together in a happy way that leaves every party with their dignity in tact!
I enjoy those moments spent basking in the simple yet brilliant wisdom of the commercial cattleman. This specimen is the most tenacious of businessmen. The commercial cattleman is truly the most pristine picture of the west; the portrait of the free spirited American cowboy…deeply attached to the land, the legacy and the livestock. He is the man who sells pounds for a living in spite of the market, the politics and the weather. He operates on a larger scale and a tighter budget with a keen eye bent toward input costs as he keeps that ever-shrinking bottom line black. All the while he supplies the world with pounds of red meat …the BEST red meat that money will buy I might add! The commercial mind is focused on profitability and is keenly aware that the “best” cow ($$$) may not be the best investment. He balances on the wire as he weighs capital outlay, return ofinvestment and return on investment with herd quality and cash flow.
The commercial cattleman understands real world cattle and the harsh conditions in which our stock must thrive to remain profitable. He is keenly aware that the mama cow must take care of herself, raise a calf independently, breed back, wean a respectable calf and do it again year after year without falter. He may breed and raise his own replacements; or his cattle may be sprinkled with somewhere upward of 6 brands….6 breeds and 6 colors. In spite of this, he knows quite intimately that pay day is all about tipping the scale on shipping day; it’s a vicious game he plays. He shoots for BALANCED….round, sound and low to the ground; muscle, mass, deep ribs, length like a freight train, the ability to cover country like a mountain goat all the while gaining weight as if Thanksgiving happens every day! Occasionally, however, the deals draw him into a few specimen that scream tall, flat and narrow as he attempts to balance quality with capital outlay! The trick though, is that those tall, flat and narrow cows wean the same type of calves; and, they trip over pennies eating dollar bills as they do it. He shakes his head as he scans the pen on shipping day knowing full well that some of those “let it slide” decisions have cost him as he overlooks a pen of uneven calves lacking uniformity, desirability….and 50 pounds. On cull day, he has his sights set high, but in light of the slumped killer cow market and the pretty penny those shiny bred heifers will cost him…he may let Lop Sided Lucy slip by one more time noting that “she raised a whopper calf this year…and after all…she’s got teeth, tits and wheels…and she’s got a calf in her!” What the heck…does she need teeth?
And alas my friends, this is the point when we come full circle. While I have been incredibly sarcastic at the expense of “our people.” These are the BEST people God created in vicious pursuit of the BEST life….building the best legacies! The take-away from this conversation is that we must be mindful of the end game in order to be successful; and, neither segment of this industry can exist without the other. The purebred breeder needs the commercial cattleman; he is the factory for the cattle industry! As such, the purebred industry must be mindful that while the numbers are a imperative to continued improvement and a crucial means to the end, but they must not lose sight of those things that are essential to the commercial cattleman! We must have sound, efficientcattle who are able to produce and reproduce year after year. That means that our purebred cattle must be proven to survive and thrive facing the same elements and criteria as their commercial counterparts. Likewise, the commercial cattlemen need good cattle to continue to produce the best beef that the world has to offer! They need the design team and they look to you…they NEED you…the purebred breeder to make that happen!
Ps! As you travel around, Midland may very well be the ONLY major sale that provides the damn dam production records!