Kirk Brandt

Kirk Brandt and his family raise purebred Angus, Hereford and Simmental cattle near Corning in Adams County, Iowa. He says customers ask for traditional traits such as calving ease when purchasing bulls, but are also interested in traits such as disposition and carcass quality.

CORNING, Iowa — The hills are dotted with corn stalks as the snowy aftermath of a winter storm turns all life into black and white on Kirk Brandt’s Adams County farm.

The biting wind has little effect on the cattle Brandt and his family raise in southwest Iowa. Those cattle are part of an operation Brandt started more than 30 years ago with the purchase of his first purebred animal.

“I’m so thankful that I was able to start this 33 years ago,” he says. “It’s been part of our family.”

Brandt and his wife, Lynn, farm with their sons Austin and Weston. They all own cattle, while Kirk and Weston grow corn and beans.

The operation began with Angus cattle, but about eight years ago the family added Hereford and Simmental genetics.

“We wanted the crossbred calves for show cattle, but we sell bulls and heifers of all breeds,” Brandt says, adding heifers will be sold at a sale Dec. 9.

He says customers are still focused on traits such as calving ease and weaning weight, but other traits are seeing increased interest.

“I would say at least 50 percent of our clientele work part-time jobs, and a big thing to them is disposition,” Brandt says. “We are seeing more questions about carcass traits, because a lot of our clients sell calves as feeders.”

He says the data available for selecting sires or females can be overwhelming, adding part of any seedstock producer’s business is helping customers work through the information.

The advance of genomics represents a major shift in beef genetic selection, says Dan Loy, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University.

“Using genomics has opened the door to look at genetics in different ways,” he says. “You are seeing EPDs (expected progeny differences) for traits such as longevity, stayability, feed intake and feed efficiency. These are new but very important traits you can now add to your selection process.”

Loy says some of the major beef breeds are now revising their calculations when developing EPDs, incorporating genomic information to make EPDs more accurate.

“You can see everything all together in the same analysis,” he says.

Loy says selecting genetics can be a tiring task for many producers.

“There are a zillion numbers out there, but the breeds are developing indexes that put weight on various EPDs, so a producer can look at one specific number based on their selection emphasis,” he says.

Some breeds are developing EPDs for feet and leg structure, traits that help determine cow longevity. Loy says some breeds are developing EPDs for disease resistance, adding the use of genomics may make that a possibility in the near future.

Brandt says seedstock producers need to be able to offer a variety of traits to potential and current customers. What works for a producer in southwest Iowa, he says, may not work for a producer in northeast Iowa.

“We still get questions about the bull’s mother. How is her udder and her disposition, questions like that,” Brandt says. “Structure is still very important.”

He adds some customers want a ton of information, while others let Brandt choose a bull or heifer for them.

“That’s a good feeling either way,” he says. “We have information to share, and if they trust us to make a choice for them, we can do that as well.

“Probably 75 to 80 percent of our clients are repeat customers, and that means a lot to us. We definitely appreciate it.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.