Many of you have heard my story about how I took a herd of profitable little cows – about 1,050-lb. average – and turned them into a herd of unprofitable big cows. The problem most breeders suffer is not with selection and breeding; it is simple to make animals bigger or smaller, or heavier-milking.
The problem is in deciding what kind of animal you want to wind up with. I remember very well being ashamed of the 400-lb., 205-day weaning weights of the set of cattle that I started working with in 1961. I was determined to increase those weaning weights to a "respectable" level.
Many traits our industry has selected for depress the trait most important to profitability for beef cattle, which is fertility. This was before EPDs became widely available but we knew that bull calves that weaned heavy tended to throw calves that were heavy, and were even more likely to do so when bred to heifers that weaned heavy.
Problem solved: breed heavy weaning to heavy weaning and my weaning weights increased dramatically. I achieved my goal, as wrongheaded as it was.
Today we have much more precise tools to use in deciding what bull to breed to what cow. Want more milk in the cowherd? EPDs are available to show you what animals to mate to increase milk or frame size or the amount of marbling ... and lots of other traits. I have not seen, however, an EPD for profitability.