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What Are Your Traits Really Worth?

For a commercial producer, choosing the right herd genetics can be a daunting task. There are more than 20 EPD values published by breed organizations. The American Angus Association (AAA) alone publishes 17 EPDs, but the organization is working to simplify the data for producer use. Thus, the newest selection tools to be introduced by AAA are a set of bioeconomic indexes, called Dollar Value ($Value)

For a commercial producer, choosing the right herd genetics can be a daunting task. There are more than 20 EPD values published by breed organizations.

The American Angus Association (AAA) alone publishes 17 EPDs, but the organization is working to simplify the data for producer use. Thus, the newest selection tools to be introduced by AAA are a set of bioeconomic indexes, called Dollar Value ($Value) indexes designed for multi-trait selection.

“We really feel it's important to begin to express genetic values in useable measures in terms of dollars and cents,” says Sally Northcutt, AAA director of genetic research.

Last year, AAA introduced the first $Values in its sire evaluation report.

“It's adding a lot of simplicity and convenience to commercial bull buyers compiling a laundry list of EPDs,” Northcutt says, “and providing a tool for directional change with an economic twist.”

The first three $Value indexes AAA released — Feedlot Value ($F), Grid Value ($G) and Beef Value ($B) — measure postweaning and end-product value. They were created from three major components — EPDs, industry-based economic values and the equations that tie together the genetics and economics. See Table 1 on page 32 for an example of how $Values would appear.

The indexes combine multiple traits into a single value that can be used to rank the animals.

Index explanations

$F is calculated using associations between weaning weight and yearling weight EPDs, with feedlot gain value, feed consumption and cost differences figured into the final calculation. $F calculates the dollar-per-head average difference in a calf's performance for postweaning merit compared to the progeny from other sires.

For example, if Bull A has a $F value of $20.56 and Bull B's value is $14.34, with random matings to comparable cows, Bull A's progeny would, on average, generate $6.22/head more in the feedlot than Bull B's offspring.

The $G measures “the expected average difference in future progeny performance for carcass grid merit, compared to progeny of other sires,” says AAA on its Web site, It combines quality grade and yield grade (YG) values, and is calculated using either carcass EPDs, ultrasound EPDs or both, if available.

For example, a bull's quality components contribute +6.65/head, which takes into account marbling score and %IMF (intramuscular fat) EPDs. The YG contribution is +9.72, using YG 3 as a base, with YG 1 and 2 bringing premiums and discounting YG 4 and 5. The YG components take into account ribeye, fat and carcass weight EPDs. The combined grid impact in dollars per head (6.65 + 9.72) is +$16.37 for the $G.

“We have industry-relevant base values on a three-year rolling average to address the quality grade components and YG schedule,” Northcutt says. “They are real-world economics in terms of what the industry currently dictates.”

Bill Bowman, AAA vice president of information and data programs, adds, “I think the exciting aspect is that it allows people who may understand grids and grid marketing to see the interaction of the quality and yield grade into one value that's reflective of how grids work in today's industry.”

$B is a combination of $F and $G, measuring the dollar per head difference in the post-weaning performance and carcass values between progeny of different sires.

“Simply put, $B is representative of me weaning a set of calves, putting them in a feedlot, retaining ownership and sending them through a value-based grid,” Bowman says. He stresses that is strictly postweaning data, and has nothing to do with maternal traits — fertility, reproduction and calving ease.

Industry response

There's been much discussion the past few years about moving away from single-trait selection using EPDs, to indexing these traits to show a truer picture of what happens when selection decisions are made.

“Indexes aren't really new to the animal industry,” Northcutt says. “They've evolved in other species — swine and dairy — so it was very timely that the beef industry would evolve into index tools to tie the wealth of EPDs and to present selection tools in dollars per unit.”

Brian House, beef specialist at Select Sires, says the indexes have helped their customers see how to put real dollars into play, and how to utilize those dollars.

“It's differentiated the cattle genetically based on what their $Values were. A lot of breeders have waited a long time to have something that simple,” House adds.

“In some respects, it allows breeders or commercial cattlemen, or anyone who uses the whole gamut of performance information, to make genetic progress more consistently across all traits. Compare that to making a big jump in one trait, and going backwards in three or four others,” says Don Trimmer, Accelerated Genetics beef genetics manager. “I think they're a great tool to use. As we look to the future of genetic evaluations we'll see more of these indexes coming out.”

Terrebonne, OR, producer Aaron Borror has mixed feelings about using indexes. He says they group too many traits together, which makes it difficult to improve a specific trait. Still, he believes indexes will have their place.

“If you're using them for breeding purposes and mating individual cows, I think it's better to look at individual EPDs,” Borror says. “But, if you're sorting sires — or narrowing down the field, because there are thousands of sires in the sire summary — sometimes it is useful to sort on grid or beef dollars first.”

The next step

While the first three $Values are based on terminal characteristics, AAA is working toward creating indexes measuring reproductive performance. In September, AAA announced the release of the Weaned Calf Value ($W) index to be released in the Spring 2005 Sire Evaluation Report.

“The $W is an intermediate value to look at that cow component and revenue and expenses charged to that pre-weaning phase,” Northcutt says. “It has some key impact areas that tie together areas like birth weight and how that relates to calf death loss and weaned calf crop percentage, and revenue back to the cow.

There is also a weaning direct component, which incorporates the weaning weight EPD, and takes into account both revenue and expenses, including calf maintenance and gain costs. The Milk EPD is also used to assess maternal milk impact, both from a revenue and cost standpoint. Mature cow size and related maintenance energy costs are some of the final considerations in calculating the $W.

“It's probably going to be the most important one for Angus breeders and their customers because it takes into consideration the traits that have made Angus cattle the dominant breed in country — calving ease, weaning weight, maternal traits, and cow maintenance and replacement females,” Trimmer says. “So when you look at the real strengths of breed, probably $W is the most important index for many producers and their bull customers to look at.”

For more information on the $Value Indexes, visit

Table 1. Example of $Value Index

AAR New Trend — 9958634 Beef Value ($B): +26.02
Feedlot Value ($F) +6.92/head
Difference in $/head
Feedlot Assumptions Value of Weight Gain 5.52
Time on Feed 160 days
Ration Cost $150 dry ton Difference in $/head
Fed Market $75 cwt. live
Cost of Feed Consumed -1.40
Grid Value ($G) +16.37/head
Yield Grade Schedule
Quality Grade Schedule YG 1 Premium $3.00
Prime (above Choice) $6.00 YG 2 Premium $1.50
CAB (above Choice) $3.00 YG 3 Discount $0.00
Choice-Select Spread $10.00 YG 4 & 5 Discount $-25.00
Standard Discount $-15.00 Average Carcass Weight 816
Grid Impact $/cwt. $/head Grid Impact $/cwt. $/head
Quality Grade .82 6.65 Yield Grade 1.19 9.72
Source: AAA Web site