The business of improving beef cattle genetics and production has never been easier. While it's possible that gene markers, gene splicing, cloning and the like will make things “better” in the future, it's my opinion that improving beef production today involves four simple steps:
Read “The Book” (your sire summary).
Get your cows bred. (Reproduction is still the number-one performance trait.)
Give your cattle something to eat. (Genetics are worthless if they're unable to express themselves.)
Have a herd health program. (Work with your veterinarian.)
These four steps are not earth shattering, but the reality of the business is that few producers do all of these things.
Sire summaries — The genetic information — expected progeny differences (EPDs) — available today in most breed association sire summaries is priceless. If you were producing pork or poultry you would not be able to access this information for those species. Yet, many beef producers fail to utilize this information, unaware that in ignoring this data they're throwing money down the drain.
It's important to remember that there is no good or bad EPD. Each producer must figure out the EPDs that fit in their production environment.
The reality is that with each new sire summary, we have better choices of sires. Today, I can select sires within the Angus breed that 10 years ago were deemed impossible to create, let alone identify.
When a breed identifies these “Michael Jordans” within the population, then everyone can expand upon them. Hence, the producers who read “The Book” have better tools to engineer genetic change than those who don't. Genetic change is opportunity. This opportunity can be turned into money if these genetics are incorporated into the herd and marketed.
Reproduction — Reproduction is the number-one performance trait. If cattle do not reproduce, you have nothing to sell.
I am amazed how many producers want to claim how “tough” their cattle are because they have to make it in “the real world.” Sure, beef cattle must reproduce in many challenging environments. Why make it tougher?
The key to reproducing in adverse environments is to balance your forage system with the nutrient requirements of your cows by timing your calving and breeding seasons correctly. Each producer needs to determine the best time for his cows to calve by answering the following questions:
When does my operation have the most abundant feed supply to breed back on?
What's my back-up system in years when I'm adversely affected by weather?
If it has to be “tough” on my cows, can I make it occur after they are pregnant?
The next question that comes to mind with reproduction is how can a producer use the sire summaries and implement technology to improve reproduction? A friend of mine calls it “the forgotten technology.” It's artificial insemination (AI).”
AI is one of the simplest, yet most underutilized, technologies in the beef industry. While not a new technology, it would certainly be a new management practice for most beef producers.
Widespread use of AI could allow all beef cattle producers to use the very best bulls from any breed. In most cases, these AI bulls can be accessed at very reasonable prices.
With today's estrus synchronization schemes, there is really no reason all producers could not implement an AI program. We sell bulls for a living, so the best thing to follow an AI program is using “sons of Michael Jordan” to breed your females.
Using EPDs and employing AI (directly or indirectly) will allow you to create the value-added cattle that work in today's grid-based market.
The last two steps in my recipe for improving beef genetics and production are giving them something to eat and keeping them healthy. Next month, I'll explain why these are the two keys to putting genetically-superior cattle in a position to succeed.
Mark Gardiner is a partner in Gardiner Angus Ranch Inc. and a founding member of U.S. Premium Beef. A fourth-generation family Angus seedstock operation and commercial Angus cow/calf operation, the Gardiners annually market more than 1,200 Angus bulls. Contact them at: Angus Ranch Inc., RR 1 Box 290, Ashland, KS 67831. Headquarters phone is 620/635-2932, or call Mark Gardiner at 620/635-2760.