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Analysis Paralysis

One of my most hated activities in the world is vehicle shopping. Do you buy new or used? What size? What brand? How important is resale? It goes on and on and on. Of course the helpful salespeople give excellent advice like “you should upgrade to the next larger model.” Usually at the peak of searching it’s easy to get into analysis paralysis and have a small meltdown. This is usually the point I have to back up and look at the big picture. What am I buying and why? Am I buying something to get around the ranch, haul equipment, and perhaps occasionally pull a trailer? I probably just need an older pickup I can buy in cash. Am I wanting to put a lot of highway miles on with a trailer? I’d probably need something newer with excellent trade in value and reliability. You get the point. When bogged down in minute details it’s time to stop and take a few steps back.

Personally, I am guilty of frequent analysis paralysis when it comes to deciding on the appropriate genetics to place in my own herd or someone else’s. This isn’t anything new, but I like to stop and take a step back and think “what am I trying to accomplish?” For most cow/calf producers fertility is the number one profit driver. So simply put, we need to put together really fertile cattle. Fertility is a really large and complicated subject, since we are talking about genetics lets first confine ourselves to only genetic influences. My brain dump looks something like this:

Fleshing ability, decreased milk production, soundness, Stay, HP, calving ease and calving ease maternal, heterosis, feed efficiency, moderate mature size, feet and legs, environmental adaptations, disease resistance, systematic culling

My next step: look at my gibberish and try to pull common themes or really important pieces out of that mess and try to come up with a few actionable items to go with. In this case, my big picture ideas look like this:

1. Soundness and fleshing ability (often related)

2. Heterosis- bull and female

3. Maternal EPD’s-Stay, HP, SC, CE, CEM, Doc

Now I have simple to follow and actionable guidelines in my selection process. Please read these next quotations in your cheesiest announcer voice “Wait! But that’s not all!!!” As you can guess I left out a rather large selection component. That would be the marketability of the calves. The first thing I want to say is there is a market for pretty much anything these days, you just have to find it. It’s true these really maternal type cattle most likely will not keep up with growthy, terminally oriented genetics. This is not surprising. Ways to get around this are:

  1. Sell to a grass finisher. It’s a booming business and smaller framed feeder cattle to fit this niche are in short supply.

  2. Retain ownership. True, the cattle would still be more profitable to hold onto if they were terminal genetics. The value here is being able to feed them as long as possible yourself and then get in and out of the feedlot as soon as possible. Not the best for profit per head but much more appealing from a cash flow standpoint compared to more terminal genetics.

  3. Take a hit on the market. If you get 10 cents back because they aren’t growthy but you can maintain a 65% drop in the first 21 days of calving season, be totally done calving in 45 -60 days with a 95% plus weaning rate per cow exposed you will easily make up the difference.

  4. If you are large enough, A.I. or turn some terminal bulls out and then you can sort at least one or two loads of straight terminal calves. The added weight and premium will be worth the headache.

Genetic selection can be really complicated or really simple depending on how you go about it. It’s fun for me to learn the nuts and bolts of the new genomic technology and how to utilize that in selection decisions. Even with as complicated as this technology can be, when you take a step back it helps you select for the big picture traits that are important. With all the available research and technology available today we are able to make strategic decisions we could have never dreamed about even 10 years ago. With this comes the ability to make something really simple into rocket science. That really doesn’t help anybody. It comes down to the ability to apply it into the real world and get measurable results. For anyone out there in the middle of a terrible case of analysis paralysis, I hope this brainstorming strategy helps!

If you want to talk about this article or cattle in general give me a call at 402.310.5056 or email me at Thanks for reading!

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