Volumes of information have taken much of the guesswork out of beef genetics, but there is still work to be done when it comes to sire selection.
Producers looking to make genetic changes need to do their homework, says Matt Spangler, Extension beef specialist with the University of Nebraska.
“The first thing to do is identify your goals,” he says. “Are you selling calves at weaning, or are you retaining ownership? Are you keeping back replacement heifers? You need to identify any traits that are important when it comes to meeting your goals.”
The accuracy and number of EPDs (expected progeny differences) improves each year, giving producers more information than ever.
“It’s much more simple. You can look at the EPDs and selection index through the breed associations, and make your decision based on the traits that are the most economically important to you,” Spangler says.
For example, calving ease becomes more important for bulls used on heifers, he says.
“But at the same time, if you are using a calving ease bull on mature cows, you are sacrificing growth,” Spangler says. “You need to look at a bull who is going to give you that weight at weaning.”
The number of EPDs has grown considerably over the past 20 to 30 years, says Mark Johnson, Extension beef specialist with Oklahoma State University.
“For a while, we had four basic EPDs that we could use,” he says. “Now we have 20 to 30 different genetic predictors that we can look at when choosing bulls.”
Johnson says in addition to looking at traits like weaning weight, the environment needs to factor in the decision.
“If you are planning to keep heifers, look at how much forage you have and the climate on the farm,” he says. “How big do you want the cow at maturity? How much do they milk? If they get too big or milk too much, it could be a challenge depending on the environment.”
Johnson says advances in genomics have made EPDs even more accurate.
He adds most commercial producers still prefer to use bulls rather than artificial insemination when it comes to breeding.
“I’ve heard the number is about 5 percent when it comes to using AI in a commercial herd,” Johnson says. “It’s just much easier to use the bull.”
Spangler says data is available on traits such as stayability (the probability of a bull’s daughter to enter the breeding herd and remain productive at least until 6 years of age). New traits are being more accurately defined by researchers, he added.
He says breed associations are good sources for sire selection questions, as are state and county cattlemen associations.
Spangler also suggests talking to neighbors who have made genetic changes.
“You also need to forge a strong relationship with your seedstock producer, once the decision has been made,” he says. “You want to buy from someone you trust, and they want a repeat customer.”