Seedstock producers and enthusiasts from across the country joined together at the annual Young Guns Conference June 17 – 19 in Loveland, Colo., to network and learn how they could advance the reliability, trustworthiness and overall value of their seedstock for their customers – the cow-calf producers, the feeders and the packers.
Co-hosted by the Red Angus Association of America (RAAA) and the American Simmental Association (ASA), the three-day conference covered a wide range of beef industry-related topics including breeding legacies, operational efficiencies, genetic testing and emerging research.
A common thread throughout this year’s conference presentations was learning from past lessons and applying them to present situations to ensure breeds’ continued profitability and sustained growth for the future.
Leading off the conference was Dr. Kevin Pond, animal sciences department head at Colorado State University (CSU). Pond talked about the past successes of CSU’s animal breeding program and recognized that in order to continue any breed’s legacy and sustainability, collaborative efforts and continued research – such as the Young Guns Conference – were musts.
Seedstock breeders have been faced with many production challenges, including how to remain profitable in a competitive market. Dr. Mark Enns, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at CSU, and Larry Keenan, breed improvement director for RAAA, discussed how operational efficiency could help sustain – and if the right traits were selected – improve a breeder’s bottom line over time.
Both Enns and Keenan discussed the value of incorporating feed conversion data and other routinely collected information such as weights into the next generation of genetic predictions. “Data collection is the key,” said Keenan. “We need to focus on collecting high-quality data from commercial producers and seedstock operations to build up the databases for our breed associations.”
Enns said genetic relationships are favorable to identify heritable traits and once breeders collect that data, associations work to translate it into EPDs through the National Cattle Evaluation.
Young Guns attendees learned about the present technologies and tools within the industry that can help them produce better beef.
One of these technologies is RA50K – Red Angus’ genomic data test that measures the reliability of traits within a herd. This information can help breeders select for desirable traits such as weaning weight or marbling, which will in turn produce a better beef end product.
Building better beef is important to all breeders’ programs to ensure they are producing great-tasting beef for the consumer. Dr. Dale Woerner, assistant professor for the Center for Meat Safety and Quality in CSU’s Department of Animal Sciences discussed how the adoption of camera-based technology to assist in the assignment of quality grades to beef carcasses significantly modernizes and improves the U.S. beef grading system.
Ultimately, this technology provides a “snapshot” of what great-tasting, high-quality beef looks like – all in 1/100th of a second.
“We’ve demonstrated through research that marbling score does a really nice job telling us the difference in eating characteristics of beef,” said Woerner. “By using the marbling scores, this [the cameras] is a really good predictive tool to determine the overall acceptability of beef products. You truly are getting what you pay for when you pay for a higher product.”
Dr. Wade Shafer, ASA CEO, explained how selection indices serve as a tool for producers to identify traits in cattle that will increase their bottom line. He said both types of indices – retrospective and economic selection – are valuable but said economic selection indices are more accurate and likened them to genetic accounting. Retrospective indices tend to follow output traits such as weaning weight and carcass traits but don’t take into consideration replacement female rates or cowherd and feedlot intake.
“Profitability is the one trait our customers [cow-calf producers] should be most concerned with,” said Shafer. “Is it a heritable trait we can select for? We better hope so!”
“The key to our success as seedstock breeders and as an industry is we need to bridge the technology gap. The cattle industry has the same science as the hog and poultry industries to utilize indices; we just don’t use them near as much as we should.”
Young Guns attendees not only learned of new technologies that could help them achieve their goals, but also from a panel with years of industry experience. The panel discussed “Profit – Post Weaning” and what steps producers could take to reach their end goals.
One of the panelists, Kevin Miller of Briggsdale, Colo., stressed the importance of documenting genetics, health protocols and illness treatments, and how good record keeping can impact a producer’s success when he sells feeder calves.
“Document everything,” said Miller. “It is going to be one of the biggest factors that cow-calf producers will have to deal with in the future. Good reputation cattle with good health records will still sell fine, but others will be discounted.”
The panel also fielded questions from the audience regarding herd health, genetics, carcass quality and how to educate customers.
Attendees toured CSU’s Agriculture Research, Development and Education Center (ARDEC) and learned about their current research on feed efficiency and days to finish. Young Guns also had the opportunity to learn from current industry practices and processes by touring the JBS – Greeley Beef Plant in Greeley, Colo., and JBS – Five Rivers’ Kuner Feedyard’s extensive, state-of-the-industry cattle feedyard.
The Young Guns Conference provided a chance for producers and breeders of all ages to network, collaborate and form relationships that will enable them with the resources to build a stronger, more focused beef industry and form alliances within and across breeds.
Insight into current and developing research and technology such as indices, genomic-enhanced EPDs, and feed efficiency and conversion studies, combined with cultivated relationships ensure producers have the tools to prepare now for a more profitable future.