Finding the elusive trends in the cattle business

Troy Marshall

November 23, 2016

2 Min Read
Finding the elusive trends in the cattle business

It’s been said that there is not a lot of difference between the cutting edge and the bleeding edge. Of course, all of us want to be on the cutting edge; being at the back of the pack, as the saying goes, doesn’t have a great view, but finding that sweet spot is easier said than done. 

The seedstock industry doesn’t drive trends, it responds to them. The trick is deciphering the needs of the commercial industry and the marketplace, then combining that with common sense, passion and the best technologies in the world. So, while we don’t set the trends, success is determined by how correctly we assess and anticipate them. It is a difficult challenge and that is what makes it so exciting.

For our business, there are three meetings I can’t afford to miss--NCBA’s convention, the Beef Improvement Federation convention, and the American Angus Association (AAA) annual meeting and convention. Having just returned from the AAA convention, it was interesting to hear all the discussions about where we needed to go and what we can do as a seedstock industry to improve the profitability of the commercial industry.  

But here’s the thing: Trends are never definitive and have a way of ending. They are nothing more than the marketplace and the aggregate responding to signals. What makes trends interesting is more than merely understanding that they are occurring. Two people can interpret them differently, respond to them differently and both be right.

Interestingly, some of the leading topics of discussion or emerging trends were ones that many considered to already be settled. The first being calving ease. Calving ease was the foundation of “curve benders” and enabled us to increase rapid early growth without increasing mature size and calving difficulty. 

But calving ease has always been a threshold trait as well. The question becomes how much calving ease is enough? Can we take it too far? Where does the law of diminishing returns come into effect?  And, of course, the other side of the equation is that nobody wants to pull a calf, and nothing is more important than a live calf.

The other topic was marbling. Especially among Angus breeders, the belief was always the more the better. The marketplace seemed to agree and in fact is sending the message more than ever. However, single trait selection is never a good idea, and selection for terminal traits almost inevitably leads to a lack of selection for maternal traits.

There were a host of other discussions—the marketplace, economies of scale, new technologies, customer service and adapting business models to the new realities. Revolutionary? Probably not, but those who succeed will be those who come up with revolutionary strategies to deal with these trends.

What trends are shaping your business going forward?

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of and the Penton Agriculture Group.


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