Breeding season is just around the corner, and it’s time to consider our investment in genetics to maximize the profit potential of the calves that will be born next year. With more genetic information and technology available than ever before, we address the process of determining what traits are economically important in your operation. There are three primary goals of any breeding season:
1. Get cows settled as early in the breeding season as possible.
2. Get cows bred to bulls with highest possible genetic values.
3. Achieve both as economically as possible by getting cows bred to fewest possible bulls.
Let’s look closer at No. 2. This topic should be analyzed from your own unique perspective based on characteristics of your operation, such as:
• How and when do you intend to market your calf crop (at weaning, as yearlings, as fed cattle, as bred heifers or open replacement females)?
• To what type females will you be mating the bull (heifers, cows, size of cows)?
• Will you be selecting herd replacements from the resulting heifers?
• What is your production environment?
• What is your economic situation regarding production inputs and marketing endpoints?
• What level of management can you provide?
Most beef breed sire summaries include expected progeny differences (EPDs) for more than 20 traits. These include multiple genetic predictors of calving ease, several traits that would be considered as maternal performance, growth at different ages, feed intake and feed efficiency. In addition, several traits that indicate carcass merit such as marbling, ribeye size, external fat thickness and carcass weight.
Various bioeconomic indexes are also reported. A bioeconomic index is a genetic value derived from assigning an economic weighting to several EPDs based on their anticipated value at a specific marketing endpoint. An example would be a terminal sire index (TSI), which is the result of assigning a dollar value to units of post-weaning growth EPDs as well as the EPDs that indicate quality grades, yield grades and carcass weight.
At some point through the segmented chain of beef production, many — if not all — of these traits are economically important. Yet, depending on the unique characteristics of your operation, only a few of these traits are economically relevant to you.
For example, the TSI mentioned above would be a useless selection tool for an operation that sells all their calves at weaning since it is based on genetic values for traits that occur post-weaning. Another example would be ignoring EPDs predicting maternal performance if you don’t intend to retain heifers as herd replacements and plan to market your entire calf crop as finished cattle.