As we cross the threshold of a new century, many of the seeds of change planted in the last century are maturing.

Gone are the days when a seedstock breeder developed his own genetic pool using only live animals. This changed when it became possible to dip into another's pool through artificial insemination. Also gone are the days when show winnings, sale prices and promotional hype created demand and breeder reputations. This changed when expected progeny differences (EPDs) made it possible to establish the real merit of animals, even unborn or virgin animals.

The days are here when anyone can purchase the sons of breed-leading sires from any one of a number of herds. The sale catalogs that pour through the mail and the sale ads that abound in the livestock and farm press provide that choice.

But where does this leave purchasers of seedstock? Through what dynamics do these producers now recognize seedstock breeders who are elitist? What are the signs by which commercial producers can identify go-to sources where "shopping" can be done with confidence?

I talked with numerous breeding and marketing experts to gather input on these questions. What follows is a distillation of this input and my own thoughts.

  • Reality is reality. It is often said that perception is reality but the rule today is: get real. The cattle industry's new reality is that it must produce more product that is acceptable to consumers in portion size, taste and tenderness. Making sure that a potential seedstock source has this goal as his personal mission should head your selection list.
  • Technology. Artificial insemination and ultrasound offer seedstock breeders two powerful management tools. Artificial insemination makes possible use of the industry's best genetics and ultrasound makes it possible to measure the progeny effects of these genetics. Seedstock breeders using this technology will find more genetic outliers within their herds, and their presence says a lot about the quality of a breeder's progressiveness.
  • Discipline. The cattle you are offered are a reflection of the discipline with which their breeder carries out his breeding philosophy. His advertising and other information will expose whether he is just playing genetic roulette or carrying out a commitment to a breeding plan.
  • Top-down view. The sires that are shown at the tops of seedstock pedigrees provide a good view of any breeder's program. The breeder's choice of AI sires, the number he uses and their EPDs will tell you whether he's breeding for the show ring or the dinner plate, and how well he's positioned for each. But if you are not a winning bidder on the progeny of these bulls, the cleanup bulls he uses may be more important. Beware of breeders whose "other" bulls have EPDs that are low or too variable.
  • Bottom-up view. An assessment of a breeder's cows can tell you even more about his commitment and discipline than assessing his bulls. Maternal EPDs tend to be lower than sire EPDs because the generation turnover is usually slower in cows. Beware of the herd in which this EPD gap is wide. This herd may be replete with old cows with obsolete genetics. Place a higher value on a narrow sire-dam EPD gap and pay attention to any breeder who publishes the average age of his cows.

There is much to think about here. I could have just as easily put these points in a context fitting the seedstock producer but it would have made little difference. It is just as important for a seedstock producer to develop an elitist program as it is for a commercial producer to seek one out. The criteria are the same.

It would be wise to remember that things will not be the same in the century ahead as in the century just past. Elitism will still be important to producers of both seedstock and commercial cattle. The dynamics of that elitism will be different, however.

To contact Fred Knop, write Drovers or send e-mail to: fredlyn@aol.com