Dave Daley, in his presentation at the recent Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) meeting in Oklahoma City, offered his thoughts on the beef industry. But in a room of some of the smartest and most successful PhDs and producers in the country, he didn’t address them as an animal scientist. Instead, he spoke from the perspective of a fifth-generation cow-calf producer in Northern California who runs about 800 crossbred cows on both deeded land and 100,000 acres of Forest Service and timber company land in the mountains. He is also the associate dean of the College of Agriculture at California State University-Chico.
Here’s a cross-section of his thoughts:
1. “We all love sorting through genetics, looking at EPDs. But I don’t have a lot of time for it if I expect to stay in business. I expect the purebred breeder to do a darn good job for my operation. So when you say commercial cattlemen just don’t get it, be careful. Try walking in their shoes.”
Daley is serving as vice president of the California Cattlemen’s Association. “Our meetings are on land use, water, environment, urbanization, taxation, animal disease susceptibility. We don’t have a lot of time for genomic-enhanced EPDs. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. They’re critical. We need those tools. But you provide them so we can use them. And don’t ever think it’s because commercial cattlemen aren’t smart enough to understand it. They’re just balancing a whole lot of other things in order to stay in business.”
2. Daley’s oldest son recently graduated from college and chose to return to the family ranch, making the sixth generation to operate the business. “He wasn’t asked to come home, he chose to come home. I’m really excited about that. For one, I need the help. Two, he’s pretty good at it and he’s excited. Unfortunately, I don’t think we encourage young people. We’re so much doom and gloom in this business that we tend to push them away rather than bring them back. And that’s unfortunate because we need those people.”
Daley teaches a systems and issues class to seniors. Each year, he asks the class what they think about the future of agriculture. Typically, about 90% will say the future is good, he reports. The more pessimistic remainder tend to be raised on ranches and farms. It should come as no surprise, Daley says, “because we tell them it’s so miserable they better get another job. We better knock that off.”
3. “My window on the world is from this viewpoint [showing a picture of their Forest Service grazing country]. We all look at things from our own viewpoint. It is who we are. My window on animal breeding and genetics is focused on what I grew up knowing. So a packer, a consumer, a feeder, they’re all right. Nobody is wrong. But it’s all from their window. The challenge is, can we look at that systematically, on a broad scale, and really understand what that means?”
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4. “If I ask my students to define hybrid vigor, what do they say? The crossbred calf is better than the parents. Is that right? The superiority of the crossbred progeny is compared to the average of the parental breeds. The only way I was ever able to communicate that was to say that if I cross a Holstein with 20,000 lbs. of milk with a Hereford with 10,000 lbs., is the F1 going to make more milk than the Holstein? We know that. So why do we think a crossbred is going to be better than the parents? A crossbred is better than the average of the parental breeds.
“With the Holstein/Hereford, the milk won’t be 21,000 lbs., it will be 15,500 lbs., 3% better than the mean. So if you have two breeds that are about equal, the crossbreed will be better than both of them. But if you have breeds that are widely divergent in a trait, you’re going to be a little above the average between the two.”
5. “Breeding red cows to black bulls and black cows to red bulls is a planned system, it’s just not perfect, and we have to accept that. We always want to do something different, tweak things, get maybe 2% more. What did it cost? 3% more? No, thank you. This is not about maximum productivity; it’s about maximum profitability, being as good as you can without the additional costs. Animal breeders are really good at genetic improvement. We need to be just as good at looking at the economic costs associated with that. That’s critical.”
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