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The Power of Being Specific

My wife has some health issues that put her in a constant state of fatigue. The other night I decided to step it up and asked what I could do to help. She asked me to help with supper. Several minutes later she walked into the kitchen to see ingredients strewn about the counter, flames flying from around the frying pan, and I of course felt like Bobby Flay. She chuckled and frowned. Panic. What was I doing wrong? She told me what I had been using was breakfast and then pointed to the oven and said “supper is already in there.” Looks like I’d have been a bigger help if I’d have just grabbed some plates and forks. Needless to say, that wasn’t my best moment. However, it was a great reminder in the power of being specific. I think this is an extremely overlooked concept when evaluating genetics. I just recently had a situation that covers this topic very well.

I have a soft spot for adding a lot more “look” into my cattle than may be strictly necessary for commercial production. (My philosophy: if you are going to have them, you may as well enjoy looking at them!) The irony is, I really don’t care for showing cattle myself. This makes for interesting brainstorming sessions when evaluating some avenues for merchandising our cattle. We partner with 44 Cattle (not the ones in TX, our partner is located in Richland, OR) and we sell Angus and SimAngus bulls that are selected for commercially relevant phenotype first (see my selection blog here) and then we grow with great data. I have some cows that I own that are registered Maintainer and really don’t fit in a commercial bull market. Primarily from perception, not true reality. Still, I’m not going to keep one a bull anytime soon. In order to make these cattle work it became very apparent that I needed to make some show steers and heifers with these cattle. I did a lot of research and found a few more abstract club calf blood lines. I have never liked mainstream club calves but thought there was room on the fringes. At the recent NWSS I was on the hunt for functional, clubby-type genetics. (my wife and kids insist on a bit of color in the calves) This became the equivalent of hunting for crocodiles in the Saskatchewan. It’s just not gonna happen. This momentarily ruined some small, but important business plans I had for these cattle. As I looked through the purebred cattle I found several of many breeds I liked. My partner and I have been searching for a good purebred Simmental bull but they are rare and pricey. I have extremely high breeding priorities of excellent structure in the form of feet, legs and skeleton. There were lots of really great Simmental at NWSS this year. However, my OCD self, kept finding small problems in hoof shape, stiff pasterned, and how true strided these cattle really were. With luck, I found a breeder whom I knew many of my Casper College judging teammates had a high level of respect for regarding his Simmental cattle and evaluating skills. It turns out he had an extremely good footed, sound strided, and really neat looking purebred Simmental bull. What was just as interesting, I found out one of my team mates whom I had not spoken with for several years owned a part in him! Life is too short to not deal with great people. This bull was a perfect fit, we bought him and here’s why:

  1. I wanted to make extremely sound females both purebred and commercial, that would lay a lasting foundation of genetics that could excel in the rugged terrain of the west.

  2. I wanted to drop my brief club calf genetics venture as bad as Angus wanted to get rid of NH. But, I still needed a way to merchandise my crossbred cattle as show steers and bred heifers but with functional purebred genetics.

  3. I wanted to bring new genetics into a very competitive bull market in the Pacific Northwest. When mated correctly on paper and verified by DNA his progeny will be marketable both visually and on paper.

I am a big fan of accurate data and its application in cattle breeding. But, what specifically does your herd need? Depending on how involved you get with genetics will depend on how detailed you get in your breeding objectives. However, I think the steps best look as follows:

  1. Make the absolute best phenotype you can and make it consistent across the herd. No matter how good the data is on a cripple, she is still a cripple.

  2. Create a consistent environment and cull ruthlessly when cattle don’t fit into your box.

  3. Collect really great data and find the best way to turn those into E.P.D.’s.

  4. Use genomics to enhance your efforts to acquire the most accurate E.P.D.’s you can.

  5. Make sure you pay attention to the most highly heritable traits first and set benchmarks for them. The goal is not to differentiate on paper (i.e. biggest YW, Marbling, Ribeye, etc.), the goal is to balance the data to make sure the cattle perform across the board.

Being specific is important because you need to define your breeding plan like the one outlined above and take stock. What kind of cows do you have right now? What kind of cows and program do you want in the future? Most people will have answered those questions a long time ago. So where are you on the journey? What specific traits does your cow herd need that will get you to the next level the fastest? Don’t listen to all the noise about the hottest bull out there, especially if it doesn’t fit your program! If you need marbling and the hottest bull out there is high growth and low marbling, that would not be a smart purchase. This sounds obvious but it is how many decisions are made- every day. The only way to be specific in sire selection is to have the knowledge of where your cowherd is. That takes both looking at conformation and looking at your E.P.Ds. If you are commercial I would recommend taking the next step and getting DNA testing (which you can get at relatively low cost and unmeasurable value) and/or registering them with a breed association. There are also livestock management options for your herd. Breeding good genetics is a journey, just make sure you are reaching your waypoints.

If you want to talk cattle just email me at or give me a call at 402.310.5056.

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