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Too much of a good thing can send anyone down the wrong trail. In the case of cattle, making sire selections based off of one or two traits can have unforeseen, negative consequences.
"In the past, when commercial or seedstock guys made sire selections based on EPDs [Expected Progeny Differences], the comment always was that more is better. But from an economic standpoint, that is not always the case," said Jack Ward, executive vice president of the American Hereford Association.
"If you used, for example, milk production as the trait you selected on, and you believed more is better because it increases weaning weights, you could be setting yourself up for diminished profits," explained Ward.
"You aren't factoring in the idea that to produce more milk that female needs more energy. So in this case, higher milk production may well decrease your bottom line by requiring more feed, pasture availability or hay -- even though you sold a heavier calf. Overemphasizing one trait can really be detrimental to the bottom line."
Dan Moser, president of Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI), a division of the American Angus Association, agrees that emphasizing single traits in bull selection can lead to unforeseen problems. The answer is to balance traits in such a way as to build profits while making genetic improvements. It's challenging, no matter who you are.
"Creating a profit-maximizing combination of traits is hard. It's difficult to know, for example, how much weaning weight is offset by lower cow costs that result from reducing mature cow size. Indexes weigh each trait based on profitability, so the ranking is ultimately based on profit. You can actually see the dollars and cents of a decision before you decide on one particular sire over another," said Moser.
Many breed associations today offer trait-balancing indexes to help producers choose sires that will help drive a herd in a desired genetic direction. All of these indexes tend to be based on profitability, and they are plentiful enough to fit different operations. For example, a cow-calf producer selling calves at weaning has a different set of needs than the producer feeding out his calf crop for sale at harvest.
AGI's Moser says two of the most popular indexes on Black Angus now are the Weaned Calf Value ($W) index and the Beef Value ($B) index. Other $Value indexes offered through AGI include a Feedlot Value ($F), a Cow Energy Value ($EN) and a Grid Value ($G)—which includes Quality Grade ($QG) and Yield Grade ($YG). The group came out with its first $Value indexes in 2004. Indexes are based on actual dollars a producer could expect to earn from one bull's progeny compared to another's.
Brian House, beef program and product manager for Select Sires, said when the American Angus Association released their indexes it was a game-changer for the 50-year-old company that provides semen to producers.
"I told the people at Angus they just made it a lot easier for customers to select sires, because it eliminated so many of the questions we hear from people as to what is the best bull," said House. "These dollar values are based on realistic prices of cattle at a given time. It was a dramatic change in thinking for commercial operators, and as the industry has gone forward, people have grasped it. If one bull makes you more money at weaning, you see it. If he makes you more at the feedlot, you see that."
EPDS ARE KEY