herd bull health tips

Balanced, maternal or just mediocre?

Look past the marketing slogans and pretty pictures when shopping for your next bunch of herd bulls.

To maintain full disclosure, I’m a seedstock producer. So when talking about the seedstock industry, it is important to know that I’m pretty biased and extremely opinionated. It is also worth knowing that if I were to use two words to describe our breeding program they would be balanced and maternally-oriented.

So it borders on blasphemy for me to say you should be wary when you read those two words in the barrage of bull sale ads you are about to be inundated with.

Every business has its quirks, and one of the quirks of the seedstock industry is that we hate admitting we are selecting for terminal traits. Even when the industry embraced value-based marketing and developed the industry-altering ability to select for carcass traits, we avoided the word “terminal.”

I’m not sure where the negativity associated with the word began, but even the terminally-oriented breeds tend to avoid it. We have no qualms talking about the components of terminal outcomes, whether they be growth, marbling, ribeye area or fat thickness. And a lot of emphasis by both the purebred and commercial producers has been placed on selecting for the terminal dollar indexes. To add to the irony, more than 80% of every calf crop are actually terminal matings.

I suppose it goes back to the fact that the cowherd is the factory and that the cowherd, more than anything else, drives the profitability of operations. For most operations, the cowherd represents our legacy and our retirement plan. As a result, it probably makes sense when you read the word “maternal” to focus and gravitate to that. Your three options are those who truly mean it; those who just like the word better than terminal and; those who use the word not because they are maternally oriented as much as they are way behind relative to the terminal traits they offer.

The other marketing term that has become a code word for average or mediocre is balanced or “balanced trait selection.” The irony here is amazing. Animal breeders and geneticists will tell you that balanced trait selection is the proper way; that single-trait selection rarely works and that the maximization of a single trait is usually not the way to maximize profitability.

The tools that are available to the seedstock industry to make improvement across a multitude of economically relevant traits of beef production are truly amazing. Balanced trait selection is the way to reduce risks and maximize profits. But like maternal, it has become almost a code word for being mediocre or average. 

Like maternal, everyone wants to claim they are exercising a balanced approach, even when they are just maximizing a few traits. It’s up to you to sort through all the clutter. The “balanced” breeders do exist, but it seems far too many are claiming a characteristic they just can’t stand behind.   

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