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Data can bog you down when choosing replacements
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Data can bog you down when choosing replacements

Jaclyn Wilson raises Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. Send comments to her at

The annual sorting of the replacement heifers took place this last week. I stress over this event every year, though who am I kidding - I pretty much stress over anything nowadays.

There are just not quite enough hours in the day to get everything done. Then I’ve made the cardinal mistake of putting a Keurig in the shop office. Because all everyone needs is just more caffeine to jolt them into reality.

Around a week prior I had decided to sit down and start sorting through data sheets. All good in theory until you realize the printer is low on ink and town is an hour away. So, I backburnered that for a bit until someone was able to get ink. What were good intentions for getting it done a week in advance whittled down to getting it done the day before.

I know in all actuality I could have informed the Boss Man I needed another day or two, but I’m still trying to get my footing of being this Boss Babe. I know if I would have postponed, the middle-of-the-night insomnia would have kept me up. Then I probably would have eaten a bag of potato chips. (That’s probably not true as I refuse to keep the dumb things at my house. But my mind would have been wanting to eat a bag of potato chips in the middle of the night – all because I decided to sort heifers on another day.)

So, there I was the afternoon before, cramming data.

Every rancher out there has a different selection method when it comes to choosing replacements. Some choose early, some sort later. Some sort based off of weight, others off of bloodlines. There is no one-boot-fits-everything in replacement female selection.

Our selection process starts at birth. When the calf is tagged, she is also weighed. That is the first performance data piece that is entered into the computer. That is followed by weaning weight and yearling weight, which then allows the computer to figure ratios for everything from birth weight to yearling weight to average daily gain to weight per day of age.

From the entry that started at birth the computer will provide 14 different data points for each animal. To add to that, on the “possible replacement” sheet I will include the dam MPPA, and a break down of genomic data on the dam if it had been collected.

For instance, a dam could had a 48-28-32 genomic category. In rancher nerd talk what does that mean? It means that the dam had a tissue sample pulled that ran through Neogen’s Igenity Beef program. That breaks the genomic data down into subsets under maternal, performance and carcass categories. I would add those subsets up under each of the respective categories and get my dam genomic number. In this case, 48 was out of a possible 70, 28 was out of a possible 40 and 32 was out of a possible 50.

Once the data sheet was all complete, I would be so frustrated I’d throw it in the trash. (Kidding.) But my mind would definitely be on data overload.

The day of sorting replacements, the Boss Man and I would both have a printout of all the heifers that had been Bangs vaccinated (in other words a sort was already taken off the bottom). We would separate them off three or four head at a time, tie the visual tag with the data sheet, analyze the data, analyze the phenotype of the heifer, and then make our selection.

If you have never been around a rancher when he or she is describing cattle, it would be the perfect time to be mic’d. Sort of the horse. She’s just soggy. She looks like a deer. I can’t do ugly. We don’t need stupid. The list goes on and on.

Fortunately, it ended up being a pretty smooth day. The Boss Man and I have the same eye when it comes to what we like and don’t like, which makes the process a lot easier. He usually doesn’t have a whole lot to say during the process, but can be counted on for an opinion if I get too bogged down in the weeds – or in this case, data.

We will work the heifers again this coming week. They will receive their breeding shots and their new double tag identifying number before they head out to what hopefully will soon be green grass.

Meanwhile, maybe this Boss Babe thing may work out yet – because I have not second guessed my sort once since we sorted (which is a first). Either I’m becoming a little more confident in my decision making or I’m still trying to find all of my ducks that are out there wandering around in circles.

Jaclyn Wilson is more than a rancher, raising Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. She’s an artist with a welder’s torch. She holds leadership positions with several agriculture organizations. She can be reached at This column represents the views of one person and are not necessarily the opinion of the Midwest Messenger.   

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Jaclyn Wilson raises Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. Send comments to her at

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