The difference between good advice and bad advice has a lot to do with timing. For example, if you are below average athletically and your best friend encourages you to “focus on what you want in life in order to achieve it.” Great advice, but this causes you to try out for MMA fighting, and well, this turns out to be fairly bad advice. However, the same advice (“focus on what you want in life in order to achieve it”) given to somebody who is trying to operate 5 side hustles, a full-time job, and has a family; that advice becomes pretty golden. This applies directly to how to manage your genetics. There is no, one right answer. In fact, operations are so diverse that there are multiple ways to achieve optimal management on a wide variety of budgets. Like the difference between good and bad advice, timing and goals start to determine the difference between good or bad management strategies for your operation. When we talk about management, we usually lump everything together. I think the first thing to do is to separate different things that need managed within the operation. Rarely do people speak directly about just managing genetics. Oftentimes, if they do use this lingo they are really talking about fertility, epigenetics, and grazing/nutrition. True, many of these topics do tend to overlap in a way. However, it’s easier to make better decisions when we consciously make decisions around one single thing. I’ll give you an example:
Rancho Cucamonga is located in NW Nevada. Resources are limited in terms of biomass and labor. The manager, Boy Howdy, is tasked with buying bulls this year. The annoying yet persistent Neogen salesman convinces him to test his heifers on the Igenity Beef profile. The results come back and Boy realizes that he is high in Marbling, Back fat, CED, and low in Birth weight. This is confusing because he has been having some calving issues. They also retain ownership and the close outs have not been overly stellar for Yield and Quality grades this year, especially compared to last year. As we dial in a little further, we realize he is really far behind in REA and CEM. Now that he knows what is going on genetically, he is going to COMPARE that to actual outcomes. In this case, his actual carcass results are confirming and contradicting his DNA testing. His higher yield grade problem is most likely stemming from lower ribeye and not managing fat on these easy fleshing genetics. At the same time, marbling is suffering but the tests are saying genetically he’s excelling there. Now we know there must be something environmental effecting marbling. Upon further investigation, drought while that calf crop was on the cow and a high morbidity rate probably were the most likely culprits. Had Boy Howdy only looked at his actual outcomes he could have decided to chase extreme outliers for marbling. In this case, that probably wouldn’t be the best use of his bull buying dollars. Now he can go down the road of looking at why genetically it says he has low birthweight genetics and in reality they have been pulling several calves these last couple years. First glance should be to the CEM number. This is often overlooked but is vastly important if you want females that can have calves unassisted. This was identified as being poor. What’s confusing is the BW. They have been fairly high and contradictory to the Igenity scores. Boy decided to hire a consulting nutritionist and they went back through the records to see what they could find. As it turns out, Boy likes to develop his heifers primarily with dry mineral and grazing. This system makes a lot smaller female but one he feels is adapted to the ranch. This is not a bad management strategy. The problem is when the ranch owner shows up one month before calving. Not liking the look of his heifers, he asks Boy to get some flesh on them as fast as possible. Boy, in interest of keeping his job, decides to put 8 lbs a day of range cubes into the heifers. This results in larger than normal calves coming out of smaller than average heifers. Mystery solved.
Now that some other areas of management have been identified as needing attention, Boy can finally focus on managing his genetics. Knowing that he needs genetics that make amazing females first, then put emphasis on retained ownership second, he starts looking at bull sales. He decides that CEM, moderate milk, moderate growth, and HP are his top priorities. On the carcass side he wants to keep marbling above breed average and focus on outliers for ribeye area. With keeping proper phenotype selection, Boy is able to round up several bulls that are closer to average sale price rather than have to always compete for the rock stars. This saves him money but still takes a step in the right direction for his herd genetics. Boy is well on his way to managing genetics. Which is good, because it looks like he might need to take a peak at his nutrition and disease management.
I’m sure this scenario feels very hypothetical. That’s because it is, I mean who actually names their ranch Rancho Cucamonga? On a serious note, I see similar situations all the time. Genetics take the wrap for everything but the new son-in-law. But who knows, the genetics may take the wrap for that if someone got wrapped up at a bull sale and had their eye on the wrong prize. That’s another post. In reality, genetics is just one facet of the bigger picture of ranch management. As technology progresses, it is becoming easier to separate what is actually a genetic effect and what belongs in another category. There are a million new ways to manage genetics with these tools. I hope this stimulated some thought, and if not, I hope it was entertaining! If you ever want to talk cows, just give me a call or shoot me an email. Thanks for reading!