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.