If you raise cattle most of your life, you’ll have the opportunity to influence about 10 generations. Therefore, each generation and each mating is a big responsibility. As a breeder, commit to identifying not simply the most popular bull but the BEST fit for your herd. To accomplish this, you’ll have to sort through all the information to find what you need and want.
There are countless pieces of data available when seeking to evaluate potential A.I. sires or herd bulls. While originally developed decades ago, Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) are considered the gold standard of tools available for genetic progress. Today, EPDs are available for performance, maternal and carcass traits. Indexes also exist for different situations, and these continue to evolve (more on indexes another time).
Even after seeing EPDs in bull sale catalogs and A.I. sire directories for years, making sense of it all can sometimes seem mind boggling. Let’s take a step back and review the foundation.
Where are you now? Where do you want to be? What are you paid for?
Before making mating decisions, consider the genetic makeup of your cowherd. Are your cows predominantly British-based, Continental-based or a blend? For commercial herds, it makes sense (and cents) to utilize crossbreeding for the added benefit of lowly heritable traits like reproductive traits. It also makes sense to select for highly heritable traits like growth and carcass traits using EPDs. For example, Angus-based commercial herds would mate well with a Simmental or Charolais bull that has top percentile EPDs for growth, ribeye area and low fat thickness EPDs.
Also, consider the strengths and weaknesses of your cowherd. For instance, if your herd has a higher than desirable amount of thin and/or open cows it may be beneficial to choose sires that are lower milk EPD and higher $EN (Angus) or Stayability (Red Angus). Different areas of the country and different management levels require different levels of milk EPD, so it is important to select the optimal EPD level, not necessarily the highest. The use of high accuracy A.I. sires is the best method for matching the needs of each female in the herd as well as the goals of your breeding program as a whole.
After considering the current genetics of your cowherd, think about your goals for future production. Do you wish to grow the herd by retaining home-raised heifers or will most calves be sold to the feedlot?
If you intend to keep your heifers for replacements, then emphasis should be placed on bulls with high-ranking maternal EPDs like Calving Ease Maternal (CEM), Milk, Mature Weight (MW), Mature Height (MH) and other similar traits. EPDs are even (finally) available for foot and udder traits in some breeds. In contrast, if you sell all calves to market, you should focus on A.I. bulls that are trait leaders for performance traits like Weaning Weight (WW). Both herds should keep Calving Ease Direct (CED) and Birth Weight (BW) at reasonable levels (many herds use breed average or better as a threshold); this helps keep calving difficulty to a minimum and maximizes the number of weaned calves. Ranches that retain ownership greatly benefit from selection for growth and carcass traits (YW, Marbling, REA, Carcass Weight).
In short, by using EPDs and selecting for practical and functional phenotype (structure, muscling, capacity, balance, etc.), you can be certain you are making the most informed decision possible. At GENEX, this is called a combination of cow sense and science.
Understanding EPDs and Accuracy
EPDs or Expected Progeny Differences do exactly what their name implies: predict how a bull’s calves will compare to calves of the average bull of the same breed.
When making breeding decisions using EPDs, it is helpful to consider the accuracy values of those EPDs. Young sires with genomically enhanced EPDs usually have accuracy values in the .30-.40 range while mature bulls with recorded progeny data have much higher accuracy values. The closer the accuracy value is to one, the window of change for each EPD becomes much smaller. Using high accuracy A.I. sires chosen to complement the needs and goals of the ranch is undoubtedly the most economical and practical method to make multi-trait genetic progress in a commercial cowherd, regardless of the herd’s goals.
Build Your Team, Build Your Knowledge
While reading this article, if your mind drifted to thoughts of corn yields or those truck commercials featuring new fancy tailgates, hang on for this one last point: if genetics isn’t your strong suit, build your team!
Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from an A.I. industry professional, breed association representative or your seedstock provider. Ask lots of questions of these people and use them as part of your network of trusted professionals.
Use all the tools available (information and people) to breed your 10 generations of better, more profitable cattle.
Calling all photographers, young, old and everywhere in between! Submit your photo for consideration to be included in the 2020 GENEX Beef calendar. Photos from all seasons and breeds are needed, so look through that camera roll and email submissions to Jenny Hanson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When speaking with Phil Perry of Perry Ranch near Oskaloosa, Kansas, one quickly realizes his commitment to be a learner, leader and server, giving back to his community and his industry.
Phil has chosen to take an active role in numerous organizations. He’s served on the local school board and a local co-op board. He’s served on the Kansas Livestock Association executive committee and the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board. He’s also served as a GENEX delegate.
“It was my GENEX rep who suggested I become a GENEX member,” shares Phil. “Then when I received a flyer in the mail about becoming a GENEX delegate, I decided to try it. I like being involved in my industry; you gain a lot of friendships and knowledge from other producers across the USA. You learn about their practices, and that keeps your mind open to new ideas. It keeps you from becoming stagnant. You need new ideas to become and remain progressive in this industry.”
Beef Representation in GENEX is Important
As a GENEX delegate, Phil attends two meetings each year – the annual meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a fall delegate input meeting. The fall meetings are held in eight locations across the USA. Fortunate for him, one is located nearby in Kansas City.
“Being a delegate has been a very good experience,” notes Phil. “I really enjoy the conversations I’ve been able to have with ranchers from all over, and having beef producer representation in the cooperative is important.”
Focusing on Making the Females We Want
The cow herd is the focus at Perry Ranch, which consists of about 400 cows and 1750 acres (including both owned and leased land).
As Phil explains, “We focus on making the female we want rather than focusing on the terminal calves, though the calves still perform well and are above average on the grid.
“We want rib, depth and not a great big cow. We’re looking for a mid-five or below frame score, and we need cows that flesh easy, as they aren’t babied here.
“We also want a self-sufficient cow with a strong immune system. We feed our calves out, so we see which ones have health issues. We use that information to determine which cows have healthy calves and can then cull cows accordingly. We also sort cows for attitude and disposition.”
Enjoying the Time Observing the Cattle
Artificial insemination has been a part of the Perry Ranch breeding program for about a decade. “My son completed an A.I. school and got me interested,” explains Phil. “I started with a dozen or so and then increased from there.”
Today, GENEX does the A.I. work. “I like to hire a professional for specialized things. This way, I don’t have to worry about having a tank and semen on hand or the tank going dry either. Then, at breeding time, I just get to enjoy the time handling and observing the cattle! Plus, I’m impressed with the guys GENEX has on the front. It’s a good crew.”
This year’s breeding project took place on May 28. “We used to breed heifers to calve in January and cows to calve Feb. 1. Now, we breed for calves born after March 1.”
While both heifers and cows are bred on the same day, heifers are generally done calving by the time the cows start.
The new timetable gives Phil more opportunity to observe the herd during calving season with the longer daylight hours. “And we’re still selling as many pounds, if not more, with the later due dates! This is probably because they’re on grass sooner, no nipped ears and so forth. There’s also virtually zero scours or respiratory issues.”
As for sire choices, he previously used SimAngus™ sires but now uses mostly black Angus. “This seems to help keep the size down, better genetics for the grass we have and produces the deep-bodied cows we like.”
Sires are used for 3 to 4 years before a new sire is chosen. In recent years, sires have included 1AN01224 CEDAR RIDGE, 1AN01044 FINAL ANSWER and 1AN01238 RESOURCE.
A quick look at the cow herd shows that Phil and GENEX work well together to make Perry Ranch a success. As a cooperative, we thank Phil for choosing to be a member of GENEX and for his continued loyalty.
GENEX is declaring 2019 as the Year of the Co-op. Member ownership, member loyalty and cooperative ideals are extremely important to GENEX. They were important decades ago when cattle producers like you came together to form GENEX predecessor cooperatives, and they are important today.
“I will be the first to admit we haven’t always waved the cooperative flag as high or as fast as we could,” shares Terri Dallas, GENEX Vice President of Member Relations, “but that’s changing! This is your GENEX where your membership – and your input – matters!”
Now is the time to share your input by becoming a GENEX delegate. Each year GENEX holds delegate elections. It’s a time when you – progressive, business-minded and loyal GENEX members – are asked to step up your involvement in your cooperative. As an elected delegate, you will serve your membership region and district for one year. During that year, you have two primary duties: you are expected to attend and share input at a fall delegate meeting and at the annual meeting held in Minnesota in March. It’s that easy, yet it’s a vital component of GENEX as a cooperative.
How You can Become a GENEX Delegate
1. Any U.S. dairy or beef cattle producer who purchased $500 of semen or products from GENEX between May 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019 and has a signed membership agreement on file with GENEX qualifies as a member.
2. GENEX members will be mailed a letter in June explaining the delegate election process. Enclosed with the letter will be a postcard where the member can nominate himself or herself to be a delegate.
3. Members interested in sharing their input as a delegate should complete the card and mail it back to GENEX. The names of those who nominate themselves will be compiled and ballots created.
4. In early July, the delegate ballots will be sent to all members. Members will vote for delegates who reside in their membership region and district.
5. Members will return their ballots, votes will be counted, and the elected delegates and alternates will be notified.
Have questions about the process or about serving as a delegate, contact Terri Dallas at email@example.com or 888.333.1783.
Remember, your input matters to your co-op, and here's your opportunity to share it!
The American Angus Association has released two new EPDs and made several changes to the $Value indexes. Learn about the new traits and index updates so you can make informed sire selection decisions.
The new EPDs include:
1. Claw set (Claw) - expressed in units of claw-set score
2. Foot angle (Angle) - expressed in units of foot-angle score
The breed average for both traits is currently 0.5. This means an animal with an EPD less than 0.5 can be considered a breed improver for the trait. To learn more about these new EPDs, read the article from the May 2019 Angus Journal.
In addition, you will notice changes to the $Values. A new model was implemented for $B which places greater emphasis on marbling and yield. The new economic values utilized in $B were also applied to $G and $F. $QG and $YG were removed, and all indexes are now rounded to the whole dollar. $W remains the same, other than the routine annual update to economic assumptions.
The American Angus Association also released Maternal Weaned Calf Value ($M). $M includes nine maternally focused traits including calving ease direct and maternal, weaning weight, milk, mature weight, heifer pregnancy, docility and the two new foot score EPDs.
For more information about the changes to the $Value indexes, visit www.angus.org/index.
Click here for a sortable file of the May, 31, 2019, Angus EPDs. Look for Claw, Angle and $M on the GENEX website bull pages and watch for them to be coming to the GENEX Beef app soon.
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