She could be a commercial replacement heifer standing in a pen almost anywhere. But this one happens to be one of mine. There are many things to like about this spring 2014-born heifer. She has length, depth, muscle, adequate femininity and a polled head. Her phenotype would appeal to most cattle producers. Good base width and a wide top. She weighed-up well at weaning and is calm natured. Being an F1 Angus x Continental cross, she is loaded with hybrid vigor. Yet another plus, her dam demonstrated excellent fertility and longevity, maintaining a great udder past 10 years of age.
Her sire is a proven Angus AI bull, well-known for producing functional females. He ranks in the middle of the Angus breed for milk EPD and tends to sire below-average mature size. This female should not get too big or milk too much for the environment she will be asked to perform in as a cow.
My heifer’s sire also ranks in the top 3 percent for the Angus breed’s weaned calf value index ($W). The definition for $W is shown in the box below. It is a cow-calf production index, and does a good job capturing the economic value of how a specific package of maternal and pre-weaning growth traits will impact a cow-calf operation. Obviously, having a sire with elite $W status is a good thing and should make this heifer more valuable as a cow.
Weaned calf value ($W), an index value expressed in dollars per head, is the expected average difference in future progeny performance for pre-weaning merit. $W includes both revenue and cost adjustments associated with differences in birthweight, weaning direct growth, maternal milk and mature cow size.
Dealing with incompleteness
That is a sizable list of things to like about this heifer. And I do like her, which is why she’s in my replacement pen. When it comes to valuable cow traits, she is packed with potential. However, my heifer is incomplete as a breeding female. There is a genetic hole in her that needs to be corrected.
Her weakness is carcass traits — specifically, low-marbling potential. Her sire (for all the good in him) ranks at the bottom 5 percent of the Angus breed for marbling. Plus, her maternal grand-sire is a below-average marbling bull as well. You get the picture. My heifer is genetically stacked for sub-par marbling potential. Her calves could definitely come up short on quality grade. That is a problem, and I need to fix it with the bull she is mated to when the breeding season arrives.
Marbling is an economically important trait when marketing fed cattle on a grid or any other carcass-merit pricing system. High-marbling cattle often earn large grid premiums, while low-marbling carcasses receive discounts that can push their value below the average market price. Whether I sell my calves after weaning or feed them out myself, I don’t want to produce discount cattle, or even cattle that run the risk of being discounted. Premium-producing cattle are what we all should be seeking. That is what I am targeting in my cow herd. Above-average marbling is a necessity for capturing meaningful premiums on the grid, and it is also helpful in receiving market-topping calf prices. If cattle feeders know a certain set of calves will earn large grid premiums, they can safely bid much of that premium back into the price of those calves when purchasing them.
High-marbling cattle = Large grid premiums = More revenue and more profit
The good news is I know my heifer’s problem. And it is not hard to move her in the right direction, while maintaining other important traits. She will be artificially bred to a calving-ease Angus bull in late April or early May. But I am not just looking for calving ease. The sire I use needs to offer a full package of maternal and terminal traits, and be especially high in marbling. Below is a table which shows the average EPDs and $Beef index ($B) on four Angus sires being considered for the task.
These sires offer heifer-acceptable calving-ease and birthweight EPDs. They have good growth and very moderate mature size. Their milk EPDs are somewhat above breed average as a group, but two of the four are below breed average. That gives me a choice on the milk side of things, and in everything else, they give me exactly what I need.
Note their top 7 percent average marbling EPD. My heifer needs a sizable bump in marbling, so she will be “correctively” mated accordingly. High-marbling bulls cost no more than other bulls. Semen prices are the same. I need more marbling, and any one of these four sires fits the bill. They also have very high $B, which translates into excellent feedlot and carcass performance. The overall package of traits these sires offer is really quite amazing — solid cow traits plus strong terminal traits wrapped up in a single straw of semen.
Two of these sires I have used before. The other two are on the list for consideration. The point is that with a little searching, sires can be found to do precisely what needs done with this female. I can complete my incomplete heifer by adding significant marbling potential, burnish her growth genetics and still keep my cow traits in tact. Sounds like a winning combination for sure.