I have a question for you. If you were a CEO of a company and had to make a strategic decision that will affect your company for years to come, how would you make that decision? Would you strictly look at revenue? Overheads? Would you consider your key employees? Their commitment, quality, and dedication? I think most people would answer all of the above in addition to a host of other metrics. Why then, when it comes to long term breeding decisions that affect our herd genetics for years to come, are we so narrowly focused? All too often the breeding decision conversations I’m involved in typically go one of two ways. 1. “I don’t care what they look like, give me the E.P.D.’s and the DNA and I’ll find the best one there.” Or 2. “E.P.D.’s and DNA are a conspiracy that helps the breed association and their best friends make loads of money. I just go out and look at the bulls I buy.”
Obviously a little extreme but you get my drift. It’s part of what I love about the beef industry. There is so much room for so many people to breed cattle the way they want. It’s really a lot of fun. What sucks that fun out like a vampire on Red Bull is all the bickering that ensues. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good discussion. It just baffles me that people can’t step back and realize that somebody has an entirely different situation to work with. This gives them a unique perspective and honestly it is rare that people are right or wrong in a black and white sense. Usually it boils down to preferences that are guarded passionately.
My purpose for this blog is to simply state what seems obvious to me, you can use all the tools! You don’t have to go all extreme one way or another! As an example, let’s take a bull buying trip together and see what genetic value we can add to our operation. Just to get most people out of their comfort zone let’s deal with something outside of most people’s normal ranching scenario.
Our proposed operation is conception to consumption with a grass-fed beef label located on the coast in the Pacific Northwest. The base herd is commercial angus with many being purchased from neighbors or inherited through the family. Bulls have been purchased for the last several years from a neighbor that raises straight bred but not registered Angus bulls. The cows calve in September and are run year-round on native coastal grasses and are supplemented when necessary. The finishers follow green grass up the valley and are never without excellent grass. Calving has never really been an issue and fleshing ability is good. Growth and carcass weights are subpar at best. Reports back from the beef customers indicate that they would prefer the meat be a little more tender but at the same time would like it to be a little less fatty.
What is the next best step? I write this scenario because most people are not involved with raising grass fed beef. Of the people who are, many do not look at E.P.D.’s or DNA whatsoever. They simply find the smallest angus bulls available from a few breeders and then find the one they like best. I’m going to write an answer not a right or wrong answer. I simply want to walk you through an illustration of how a person could use all the tools available to assist them in acquiring an important genetic asset. After all, in 10 years from now the heart of this producer’s herd will be mostly related to this year’s bull purchases.
First things first, in order to evaluate what this producer has, it would be an excellent idea to test all of his heifers with an Igenity profile. This will allow him to see where his youngest generation sits for many traits that would otherwise be unknown. Another important piece comes in the form of the Tenderness markers that are included into this panel. This is extremely important for improving meat quality and this producer definitely gets paid for it. Once the testing is done this producer finds that as a population he is below average for tenderness, ADG, and carcass weight. It becomes very clear that these traits need to be focused on. In researching seedstock producers to purchase from an emphasis is made to stay within the same state in order to better adapt the bulls. After eliminating some seedstock providers that don’t graze out as often, feed a lot of supplements to their cows, and/or put their only emphasis on terminal traits, you arrive at a provider that raises SimAngus cattle. The cattle in general are exceptionally good footed, have good udders, and are moderately sized. The first step is to go look at the bulls. You find 3 bulls that interest you. The first reads with GE-E.P.D’s as follows:
CED BW WW YW ST MK MB REA
12 -1.2 47 58 9.2 12 .35 .21
CW API TI
21 98 61
This bull is big ribbed, average for muscle, and a little short necked.
Bull number 2:
CED BW WW YW ST MK MB REA
4 1.8 69 104 11.4 20 .07 .79
CW API TI
51 108 71
This bull is a solid 6.0 frame with loads of muscle and yet is as sound as you can make one. Excellent balance, easily the phenotypic standout.
Bull number 3:
CED BW WW YW ST MK MB REA
16 -1.5 85 142 20.8 22 1.05 .81
CW API TI
64 171 98
This bull is narrow chested, narrow pinned, flat ribbed, but has a big top and seems to stride out well on both ends of his skeleton. Although he has excellent growth numbers he is still very moderate in his size.
I suppose this is where price comes into the picture but I would rather not put up another mental hurdle for everyone to jump. So here is the question, which bull do you choose? Supposing they all cost the same? There probably isn’t enough data here for some of you and there definitely isn’t enough pictures/video for me. So, you are just going to have to trust me on the phenotypic evaluation.
Time’s up. I started this by saying there is no right or wrong answer but that was a total trap. Do not buy bull 3!!!! I know he reads like a C.P.A.’s love letter but that bull is bad news! This isn’t fair to the people who lean more towards data but I’m not saying data isn’t important. I’m just saying when they are a narrow skate with no rib shape you throw the data out because it’s not going to work [no matter what the numbers say!].
Consequently, I really don’t think bull number 1 is a great choice either. There are people out there that will say this big ribbed, moderate sized, and really easy calving bull is designed for this scenario. I could see picking him up down the road to balance bull number 2’s progeny out but not today. Today the bull this operation needs is number 2. Yes, his data is not where you want it. Some will balk at BW but he is putting him on cows. Others will balk at marbling but that is already present in the cow herd and many grass-fed beef customers prefer the lower fat in a select grade. Another point to remember, when looking at E.P.D.’s you are not reading finite moments in time. Bull number 1’s progeny will not be exactly 3lbs lighter at birth on average than bull number 2’s progeny. It’s merely stating that bull number 1 is trending more like a calving ease bull and bull number 2 should not be used on heifers as he trends the other way. E.P.D.’s are fluid, so read them like the market (hopefully with less volatility. If not I would be calling your breed association’s CEO…).