Perhaps the beef business is not unique. However, each year, when the students gather to study beef production, they are geared to determine what is right.
Many think they already know. This bull or that bull, this steer or that steer, this cow or that cow.
The comparisons can be numerous, but the urge is always there to pick the best.
Unfortunately, the question often is wrong or the answer already is assumed before the question is asked. Students compete with each other as they compare predetermined or engrained concepts of what is best.
In class the other day, two Angus herd sires were presented to the class. The herd sires were taken by chance from two websites of two different Angus breeders. Each student was asked to compare the bulls.
Cutting to the chase, one bull (A) had an expected progeny difference (EPD) for a weaning weight of plus 74. The other bull (B) had an EPD weaning weight of plus 18. An engrained response was evident because all nods went to bull A. This means that bigger and better would be the motto. Bull A is in the upper 1 percent of the breed for preweaning growth, while bull B is at the lower end.
Checking the Angus Association website, the weaning index EPD for bull A was plus 40.77 (upper 2 percent of the breed). For bull B, it was plus 29.11 (upper 35 percent of the breed). The weaning index did not change opinions.
Checking the Angus Association website again, we looked for the cow energy value ($EN). Bull A's $EN was minus 20.07, while bull B's $EN was plus 33.63. In terms of breed ranking, the bulls had completely reversed. Bull B was in the top 2 percent in the Angus breed, while bull A was at the lower end.
The class was silent, at least momentarily. A real challenge was presented with these two bulls. Bull A led the way for growth, but is sacrificing maternal issues, while bull B led the way to impacting the maternal side of the breed but is sacrificing growth.
In fairness to the students, the discussion did acknowledge the dilemma. As the years pass, experienced cattle producers understand the need to genetically balance the cow herd. Likewise, in earlier years, various breeds of cattle evolved with more focus on selected traits.
The early split was between maternal breeds and paternal (or terminal) breeds.
It was fairly well understood that one breed would have difficulty in meeting the needs of the complete package.
In today's beef world, producers tend to be more single-breed orientated because they are looking for the complete package within that one breed.