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picking the best cow is a preference thing

We All Talk About Data, But Preferences Matter, Too

In every segment of our business, data rules and profitability is the decisive factor. Yet, we still cherish certain traditions, perceptions and the like. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how certain I’ve been of the top two or three heifers in each calf crop, only to learn that they weren’t in my top donor prospects 5-6 years later.

Calving intervals, calving ease, fleshing ability, structural correctness, fertility, mothering ability, disposition, growth and carcass traits are all fairly easy to measure and interpret. When combined with economic costs and values, it’s fairly easy to determine which animals are most profitable.

It’s a humbling and challenging process because there are so many components that drive the profitability equation, and so many variations in management, resources, marketing and the like, that a lot of combinations that can bring you to the same point.

Still, the best marketers tell us that it is just one trait, which they excel in, that you need to pay attention to – just breed little cows, breed them for end product merit, pounds rule, etc. Some even market the even more esoteric view that they simply have the “master’s touch or eye” and can reach beyond the data to take you to a higher level, even though the data may not confirm their beliefs.

Our program has to be data- and profitability driven, and we are making progress, but I love moderate, deep, thick, feminine, easy-fleshing cows. Admittedly, we’ve used a few bulls, and even raised some, that don’t fit that model. However, in general, our greatest challenge and pleasure comes in trying to align the science and profitability with the perceptions we hold dear and don’t want to sacrifice.

I’ll concede it may not always be faster, but I’d rather move my cows on horseback. I also appreciate when our hired man heads to the far end of the pasture on the 4-wheeler, because he can get there a lot quicker.

I have good friends that are pretty “ranchy,” in that they like roping a 2,000-lb. bull in an eight-section pasture, loading him without a corral in sight. I haven’t roped an animal for a real-world purpose in over 10 years. To be honest, I’d take a half day, drive one to a corral, and even load and haul them to a chute, before I’d contemplate roping an injured cow and doctoring her out in the pasture.

I’m sure we all do some things not because the data confirm it, but because it’s just the way we like to do it. I’ve seen some really hammer-headed horses that were super-athletic and great horses, but you won’t ever see me ride one. I like pretty-headed horses. Holding true to our preferences increases the level of enjoyment. Some people prefer black cattle, others red; it’s like debating whether chocolate or coconut cream pie is better. The right answer varies depending on the people involved.

I think the key is to understand what is a preference and what is a fact based on good data. I’ve always been a Ford guy, and my dad always drove Fords. But I ended up owning a GMC truck last month and I kind of like it. Who knows, maybe a red cow or ugly-headed horse is in my future, too.


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