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Cattlemen at a bull sale

More thoughts on genomics, genetics and what makes good cattle

As we progress in our knowledge and technology of genetics and genomics, are we forgetting the basics of what makes good cattle good and bad cattle bad?

My blog last week, recalling a phone conversation I had with a rancher who was frustrated with his venture into the bred heifer market, generated some thoughtful discussion with several folks. Much of that discussion revolved around the value of EPDs.

Folks who have been around for a while know full well that EPDs are not new. When I went to work for the North American Limousin Foundation almost 40 years ago as a college kid, EPDs were just coming on the scene and breed associations were strongly encouraging their breeders to report data and use the numbers in their breeding decisions.

Now, with genomically-enhanced EPDs, the accuracy and value of has increased remarkably, making them even more useful. But in our race to improve our cattle genetically, are we forgetting something?

Jeff Springer thinks so. He’s a Simmental breeder from Cresco, Iowa, and he sent me a very thoughtful email about all this. With his permission, I’ll share some of his thoughts.

“I think you would agree we are a society that wants everything now, cheap and easy. EPDs and genomics offer that. We show at the Denver stock show each year and the number of people that walk into a pen, look at EPDs and then decide whether to stay or not has increased. Most of the people I have followed that are doing that are out of business in a couple of years with huge losses, simply because the cattle had underlying issues and EPDs were prioritized.”  

Springer encouraged BEEF, in the articles we write about genomics and genetics, to include a paragraph explaining that EPDs should always be used as selection criteria in conjunction with selection for proper structure, udder quality, fleshing ability, scrotal size, etc., among other things. He thinks that would be of particular benefit for beginning producers, especially college and high school students.  He’s right.               

Springer says a case in point happened recently at a state-sponsored consignment sale. “There were four types of bulls there; high genetic valued bulls with severe problems, high genetic value bulls that were nice bulls, good power bulls with average genetic values and just bulls. The 35 and younger buyers purchased the high genetic value bulls without regard to quality. Half of them just brought severe problems into their herd. The good power bulls with average values were purchased by the 50 and up crowd. And, of course, the poor quality bulls were purchased because of the very low price.”

The point he wants to make is that about half of the buyers of high genetic value cattle will lose money because of too much priority of genetic values and not enough priority on structural soundness and other important traits. “We need all of the younger producers we can muster, so it bothers me to see this.

“We have sold bulls for 35 years and I can tell you that two things are just as true today as they were when I started. Cattle that are slightly above average in all traits will always make the most profit and yield the fewest problems. And secondly, a bad animal with fantastic EPDs or genomic values is still a bad animal.”

I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks, Jeff.


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