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.