EPDs can add value to cattle when used correctly

If a person spends much time in the cattle businesses, they are going to hear the term EPDs.

Expected Progeny Differences are a useful tool for a producer of any size and, when properly utilized, they have the potential to make a big impact on marketing cattle.

What are EPDs?

Simply put, EPDs are an estimate of how a particular bull’s calf will perform in certain traits compared to another animal’s in that particular breed and when bred to similar females, before the mating ever occurs, according to the Nobel Research Institute in Oklahoma. The actual EPD is calculated using information submitted to breed associations and provides a basic representation of the pedigree for that particular bull for a particular trait of interest.

How are EPDs Used?

EPD data aids producers in making appropriate selections when shopping for an animal (or semen or embryo) that meets their production goals. Well before researching EPDs, a producer should have a clear idea of their needs. Are high weaning weights a goal? Calving ease? Milk production and mothering ability? Marbling and carcass quality? Chances are most producers will have all or most of these on their list, plus a few more. That is why it is important to not get bogged down with just one trait when looking at EPDs.

For example, if a producer has two bulls (Bull A and Bull B) to choose from within their chosen breed that will complement their cow herd, and weaning weights (WW) EPDs for Bull A and Bull B are 31 pounds and 46 pounds, respectively, and their accuracies are about the same. What does this mean? It means that, on average, Bull B will sire a calf that will wean, at the same age, 15 pounds heavier than calves sired by Bull A, when bred to a similar set of cows. OK, but is that good or bad?

In order to answer that question, you need another very important piece of information, which is the percentile breakdown charts found in the sire summary for your breed of choice. This chart allows you to look at the breed as a whole and determine where an individual’s EPD fits within the breed.

Bull B, for example, is in the top 10 percent for weaning weight within the breed, so Bull B should be the bull of choice, but is he? Perhaps not, because only one trait is in question.

To avoid extremes in any one trait, be aware of, and comfortable with, all of a bull’s EPDs that are important to you before making the purchase.

Using EPDs for Marketing

EPDs can aid producers in getting a higher price for their bulls by attracting committed buyers who are consciously working on improving their herd. The use of EPDs also allows producers to participate in programs and special sales that emphasize genetic quality.

Genetic testing in females is also desirable to many producers and can help marketing efforts.

University of Missouri Extension Livestock Field Specialist Eldon Cole said genomically-tested females often sell above average.

The feeder cattle market also benefits from EPDs.

“Several breeds and producer groups sell feeder cattle and require the calves are sired by bulls meeting certain EPD requirements for growth and carcass traits. Most of these special programs encourage the use of artificial insemination using high accuracy bulls,” Cole said.

While some producers might be a bit wary of using EPDs, they truly are a useful tool in the long run, and many other producers are willing to invest where those results are present.


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