Bull buyers select for profitability traits

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Beef cow-calf producers should prioritize the traits that are most important to profitability on their particular operation. Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) is the most widely used indicator of genetic merit for most breeds. Most commonly used EPDs fall into the category of growth, maternal ability or carcass quality.

Growth EPDs, such as weaning weight and yearling weight, are important economic traits. Cattle growth performance is an important economic performance indicator. Cattle that do not grow and perform well usually are not profitable. Producers should select bulls with good growth performance; however, care needs to be taken to select animals that are not too large in their frame size. Yearling weight is positively correlated with frame score; consequently, frame score and mature weight of the cow herd can become too large by selecting for growth EPDs alone and drive up feed requirements.

Birth weight and calving ease are important traits to consider. Calf survival is a critical indictor of cow-calf profitability. Calves born through difficult birth are more likely to die during parturition or soon after. Cows that have difficulties delivering a calf are less likely to rebreed during the subsequent breeding season. Selecting for low birth weight and calving ease will improve weaning and breeding percentages and help keep frame score and mature weight in check. However, continual selection for low birth weight or calving ease alone may result in cattle lacking in growth and mature size. Producers should look for bulls with growth EPDs that are in an upper percentile of the breed, while also selecting bulls with lower birth weights and greater calving ease numbers. Selection in this manner will allow for adequate growth of calves and moderate mature size of cows. Remember, selection for extremes is seldom a preferred genetic selection method and a balanced approach is almost always the best.

Producers should also pay special attention to maternal milking ability. Selecting for greater milking ability will also result in greater nutrient requirements of lactating cows. If feed resources do not support the increase of feed needs, cows may lose body weight and condition which can result in poor conception rates. Producers need to select bulls that will produce replacement females with milking ability that matches their feed resources.

Carcass merit can be an important economic trait. Producers that retain ownership or have been able to market calves based on their carcass quality should pay particular attention to carcass traits such as marbling, rib eye area, carcass weight and yield grade. Cattle that are selected based on carcass merit offer opportunities to improve profitability by marketing finished cattle when sold directly to packers with prices based on carcass quality.

Producers should take a balanced approach to selecting multiple traits and seek bulls moderately above breed average with emphasis on the traits most important to an individual operation. Beef cow-calf producers should select bulls for traits important to achieve profitability.

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Ron Gill    
Texas  |  April, 01, 2013 at 10:18 AM

I agree with most of the premise here but want to point out what I think are mistakes in the conclusions. If you select for increasing growth (even if is only slightly above average as suggested) you will do at least one of two things (or worse both). Increase milk production in the cow herd or increase mature size. I just can't see how one of those two will not happen. In face of today's high input costs I think we need to change our selection model back to what it should have probably been all along. Profitability comes from a combination of two things. Lower costs or more income. We have been guilty of pushing the "more income" as the result of heavier calves which has led to cows that are so large and milk so heavy that we are expending a disproportional amount of feed resources on maintenance. I just don't think we can continue down this path and be profitable. It is going to become more about cost control and limited inputs, while perhaps even moderating performance, to increase profitability. This will be a tough pill for us as an industry to swallow because everything we have striven to achieve for decades will not serve us well in the pursuit of future profitability. It is easier to have the mentality that bigger will result in "more income". We just can't forget the cost side of today's production equation and a huge part of that falls on the nutritional needs of bigger cows and the machinery and inputs to generate more tonnage of higher quality feed.

Robert Dunkle    
Skiatook, OK.  |  April, 01, 2013 at 02:43 PM

Ron, you missed a very important point that the article emphasized.....balance. The article says to balance the milking ability of your cows to the amount of forage you have available. That being said, the industry wants about a 5.5-6 frame score steer to "fit the box' and you can't do that with frame 3 cows and a frame 5 bull, nor can you do it with frame 6 cows and frame 8 bulls. The article is vague because there are producers in the US at all levels of production from frame 2-3 cows to some I see that are still frame 8-9s. The important thing is to balance to your operation.

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