Kelli Retallick, Genetic Service Director with Angus Genetics Inc. recently shared this informative piece on calving ease.
Calving ease is a desired trait. Most would argue it is not
only desired but necessary, as calving difficulty can lower
calf survivability and extend post-partum intervals for cows,
which then lowers breed-back rates. Expected Progeny
Differences (EPDs) can be utilized to help manage this risk.
Often, producers ask, “Can we have too much calving
ease?” To answer, it is important to reflect on the basis of
the calving ease argument, the build of the EPD and what
to expect when using these tools. Knowing this, cow/calf
producers – both seedstock and commercial alike – can
make informed decisions about their own herds.
Using the tool
Calving Ease Direct, or CED, is the
most effective tool when deciding
which bulls to mate to first-calf
heifers. Expressed as a probability
percentage, CED aims to predict the
percentage of unassisted births a bull
will produce when mated to heifers.
Let’s compare two bulls. Bull A has
a CED EPD of +2, and bull B has a
CED EPD of +7. When mating these
two bulls to similar groups of heifers,
phenotypically and genetically, one
would expect, on average, bull B
to produce 5% more unassisted
births than bull A. While no one can
indefinitely state the perfect cut?off
to be used across the industry, producers can rely on the information
available to them to make the best
decisions. It gets even simpler
when producers can rely on past
records to benchmark the amount
of calving difficulty experienced to
understand where selection pressure
should be placed.
Behind the EPD
Calving ease scores collected by
breeders are utilized to predict CED.
These scores range from 1-5, where
1 would indicate a birth with no
assistance. For Angus cattle, only
scores reported on first-calf heifers
are used in the prediction of the CED
EPD. Mature female scores, while
they can be reported, are not used
in the national cattle evaluation as
not enough variation, or differences
among reported scores, exists to add
value to CED predictions.
Birth weight is used as a correlated
trait in the calving ease evaluation.
The correlation, or strength of
relationship, between calving ease
and birth weight is -0.65 which is a moderately strong, negative
relationship. A negative correlation
suggests as one trait goes up
the other goes down. Therefore,
in most cases, as calving ease
increases, birth weight tends to
trend downward. When focusing
on decreasing calving difficulty in
first-calf heifers, it is most effective
to focus on CED EPDs as this is the
economically relevant trait. On the
other hand, if the focus is to strictly
increase or decrease birth weight,
the BW EPD is the tool of choice and
most effective to influence changes
on actual birth weights of calves.
These scores and weights are then
evaluated together in a threshold
model, but it is important to
understand in a threshold model
an underlying assumption is made
about the amount of existing calving
difficulty. Therefore, if the tool is
predicting the decreased number
of assisted births in a population,
a percentage of assisted births is
assumed. In the case of the Angus
CED EPD, this threshold model was
designed to help lower the level of
assisted births present in a mixed
breed commercial cowherd, which
in most cases would have a higher
incidence of calving difficulty than
a purebred registered Angus herd.
This is why patterns in the data
representing the percentage of
assisted and unassisted births of the
purebred Angus herd are not always
completely linear when tracking up
or down the CED scale. Figure 1
breaks out the percentage of assisted
births recorded for each CED EPD
possessed by the sire when bred to a
breed average Angus female. As the
CED EPD of the sire increases, the
number of assisted births decreases.
However, the decrease may not be
by an entire percentage point as
expected. The reason? Mating Angus
sires to Angus females who are breed
average for both calving ease direct
and maternal is not the expected
industry average mating.
In a recent survey conducted by
the American Angus Association,
producers reported treating calving
ease as a completely separate trait
using independent culling levels
when making genetic decisions.
Independent culling is a selection
strategy stating an individual animal
will be culled if it does not meet the
specific requirement of a single trait,
regardless of the levels of other traits.
Using this method of independent
culling, while efficient in making
genetic change in that specific
trait, can lead to drawbacks which
can affect herds in the long term.
Producers setting specific thresholds
on any trait, ignoring a multi-trait
approach, can lead to eliminating
bulls for falling just under this
culling threshold even though they
may possess other characteristics
valuable to the operation.
The bottom line – not all cowherds
are created equal. What can be
utilized safely in one herd may cause
problems in another. Knowing CED is
designed to be a heifer mating tool,
using different bulls to mate first-calf
heifers and mature cows may be
logical. The best advice may be to
understand the cowherd these bulls
will be utilized in.
As a cattle producer, you know your
cowherd better than anyone. If the
bulls used on first-calf heifers have
averaged a +6 for the CED EPD for
several years and you have yet to
pull a calf, then a +6 CED bull is a
safe option. On the other hand, if
your bulls have averaged +10 CED
and you have repeatedly pulled a
higher percentage of calves from
first-calf heifers than desired, then
more calving ease may be necessary.
Understanding the relationships in
your herd is crucial to the overall
success of the genetic program.
U.S. college graduates with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, or the environment are in great demand but are expected to fill only 61% of the expected annual job openings. While most employers prefer to hire graduates with this expertise, they will be forced to look elsewhere because the forecast calls for more annual job openings than can be filled by these graduates, according to a recent report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
GENEX is doing its part in encouraging youth to pursue agricultural careers by offering the GENEX Collegiate Scholarship Program. A minimum of four $750 scholarships will be awarded to deserving candidates who can answer yes to the following questions:
› Are you planning to be enrolled in a two or four year college in fall of 2019 and looking for help to pay for it?
› Is your degree program in an agricultural field?
› Do you have an active role on a GENEX member's farm or ranch?
The deadline to apply is April 1, 2019, so download the application and get started today!
“GENEX leads change,” stated Huub te Plate, GENEX Chief Operating Officer, in his address to delegates at the cooperative’s annual meeting Jan. 23 in Bloomington, Minnesota. “Throughout history, we have delivered key innovations and led industry changes. If we stop changing, we stop leading.”
During his management report, Huub spoke of the changes the cooperative underwent in 2018. The most significant was the formation of a new parent company URUS, through the combination of Cooperative Resources International and Koepon Holding BV. The combination, completed in October 2018, was the culmination of a yearlong process which included a milestone vote of support by GENEX delegates.
“This combination of a cooperative and a privately-owned business was an industry first. It has resulted in an organization of enormous scale - second to none in the cattle artificial insemination industry – and holds many opportunities for GENEX members and customers,” stated Huub.
He went on to explain that areas, such as the genetics program and semen production operations, have been centralized under URUS. Centralizing these activities enables the creation of efficient production facilities to maximize the quantity and quality of semen produced.
Other business changes during the year included the divestiture of CENTRAL LIVESTOCK and the transition to GENEX as a global brand.
GENEX experienced below budget results for 2018. “The U.S. was challenged with continued low milk prices and issues with other commodities,” noted Huub. “These same dynamics that affect your farm or ranch profitability level also impact your cooperative and created an operating environment that made achievement of the budget difficult.”
Also impacting revenue was the industry’s shift to using beef semen on dairy females. “Targeted breeding programs using GenChoice™ sexed semen along with beef semen appear to be a long-term trend. In fact, beef into dairy sales quadrupled throughout the year. This, however, displaced use of conventional dairy semen,” stated Huub. “On the bright side, GENEX is positioned to help you make informed strategic breeding decisions through use of our Calf MathSM and Beef x Dairy programs.”
The international market showed some recovery from the previous year with retail operations in Brazil, Canada and Mexico gaining market share. The dairy market in Brazil was in crisis and sales figures reflected the difficulty, yet beef semen sales were strong. The Mexican dairy industry struggled as well, though herd care product sales and increased interest in beef A.I. showed huge opportunities. Among other major markets, GENEX dairy semen sales growth was realized in China and Russia while they struggled in Argentina. Beef semen sales in Argentina were solid.
Through all the change and the global economic turmoil, GENEX council President John Ruedinger, a dairy producer from Van Dyne, Wisconsin, expresses optimism for the future. “Through all this, we need to hold fast to our cooperative business status and mentality. We need to do more than brand GENEX as a cooperative. We need to remain relevant to members by asking for their feedback and responding to their needs. We need to ensure the next generation of producers is involved in and driving their cooperative’s future.”
John concluded by saying the decision to form URUS is one delegates should be proud of. Their foresight and vision to create a new company means the future is bright and the vision is clear for GENEX.
Members Elected to GENEX Council
Also at the annual meeting, five cattle producers were elected to three-year terms on the cooperative’s 13-member council.
Casey Dugan of Casa Grande, Arizona, was elected to his first term. Casey, a graduate of Northern Arizona University, is owner of Desperado Dairy and a third generation dairy farmer.
Re-elected to the council were Daniel Tetreault of Champlain, New York; Lamar Gockley of Mohnton, Pennsylvania; Kay Olson-Martz of Friendship, Wisconsin; and Jody Schaap of Woodstock, Minnesota.
Following the annual meeting, the GENEX council elected officers. Those holding officer positions for 2019 include:
› John Ruedinger, Van Dyne, Wisconsin - president
› Bobby Robertson, Tahlequah, Oklahoma - first vice president
› Harold House, Nokesville, Virginia - second vice president
› Ron Totten, Stafford, New York - secretary
Push™ calf nutritional paste was released about four years ago and its following of loyal users has continued to grow. One of the first individuals introduced to its benefits was Brad Johnson, GENEX Director of Beef Genetics. He wrote about his experience shortly after trying the product. Here is his story from 2015.
My wife, Lindsay, and I have a small herd of Angus and Red Angus cows outside of Shawano, Wisconsin. Earlier this year the GENEX Communications department, gave me two tubes of Push™, a new protein and energy paste for calves. My mission was to get a photo while I was administering a tube to one of our calves for the upcoming advertising campaign of this new product. “No problem.”
We calve our heifers in February and the cows primarily in March and April. February in northeast Wisconsin is cold and snowy while March and April are cold, wet and muddy; neither time is ideal, that’s for sure. In fact, Lindsay has occasionally threatened to find a more patient A.I. technician so we can calve when it’s warmer! We built a few temporary calving pens in a pole shed and rotate cows in and pairs out. It works okay as long as we’re prepared.
This year Heifer #351 decided to calve outside on a cold, windy January day, about 10 days early! Upon noticing the newborn, I quickly shuffled the new pair to the shed, snapped on a LIFEJACKET™ calf coat and began my normal new calf processing routine. I remembered the tube of Push™ nutritional paste stowed in the back pocket of my coveralls, so I gave it to the calf. Either it was too cold and windy for the photographer or two young kids were occupying her time, but we didn’t get a photo taken. In short order the calf was up and nursing and showing great vigor, so I felt pretty confident I’d gotten to the new calf in good time. About two weeks later, the calf’s ear tag fell completely out as her ears continued to get shorter and shorter from the frostbite she’d suffered. It was then I finally realized how much stress the calf had experienced. One tube of Push™ nutritional paste left.
Heifer #312 spent several nights in the calving shed because the vet called her A.I. bred, but it soon became apparent she must have been bull bred. She was the last heifer to calve. I was tiring of 2:00 a.m. checks, so I was glad to see when she started calving at 10:00 p.m. I went back inside with intentions of giving her two hours. After the two hours it was clear I’d be assisting this delivery. Long story short, #312 delivered an 87 lb. bull calf with moderate help. Not the worst pull ever but stressful for the calf nonetheless. While Junior, the newborn calf, laid there sprawled out not doing much of anything, I again thought of the Push™ nutritional paste in my back pocket. He looked like a calf that could use a pick-me-up. Should I text the sleeping photographer to wake up, get dressed and come out into the cold to take our picture? What would any sane husband do? I opted to let Lindsay sleep. Fast forward 10 minutes and the calf was up drinking happily, thanks in large part to that tube of Push™ nutritional paste. I consider Junior a great advertisement for Push™ nutritional paste and for using proven A.I. sires on your heifers! Zero tubes of Push™ nutritional paste left.
The next morning, I called and ordered a box of Push™ nutritional paste. While these two examples aren’t the most difficult calving experiences I’ve ever seen, I am confident Push™ nutritional paste works, and it helped these two calves get up and going. I’m going to make sure I’ve always got a tube of Push™ nutritional paste in my back pocket when calving season rolls around. Now if we could just get that darn picture taken…
When the weather is warm you pay close attention to semen handling, but are you careful during the colder winter months as well? It seems semen handling procedures often become a bit more relaxed in cold weather.
You might think that since the semen was frozen, it’s no big deal to expose it to the chilly wind or to delay putting it in a pocket right away. However, it’s important to always handle semen carefully no matter the outside temperature!
Here are a couple points to consider while handling semen this winter:
1. Liquid nitrogen still evaporates in cold weather, so don’t forget to put the cork back on your tank as soon as you are done pulling out the straw.
2. Regularly measure your tank’s liquid nitrogen level, just as you should in the warmer months.
3. If your fingers are wet due to snow or ice, they are more prone to frost bite. Be sure your fingers are dry when touching semen canes, or wear milking gloves to avoid getting your skin stuck to the canes.
4. Pay attention if using the warm water thaw method. It takes just seconds for the semen to freeze again if it is windy outside.
5. Always warm up your A.I. gun. If you have a gun warmer, use it!
6. Make sure to allow more time for semen to thaw when using the Pocket Thaw™ method.
7. As always, slowly push the plunger into the A.I. gun while depositing semen.
For best results, think twice about how you handle semen outside the tank during winter weather!
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