If asked, most commercial producers will say that they want to work towards improving their herd – birthing ease, growth rate, carcass weight and quality, etc. If you’re working with average or below average cattle, making those types of improvements can be a daunting task. It’s not an unobtainable goal, however, especially when you utilize genetic selection (the process by which certain traits become more prevalent in a species than other traits) as a tool to help you get there.

“Genetic selection helps guide a cow/calf operation towards their goal,” said Eldon Cole, Livestock Specialist for the University of Missouri Extension. “It is easily the most positive way to infuse above average genetics for traits such as growth and carcass, and finally feed conversion is getting some attention in the EPD and genomic realm so far as a selection tool.”

He went on to say if producers are successful in raising the genetic level of their cow herd, they need to capitalize on that point in their marketing strategy.

“Growth, feed conversion and top carcass quality places those cattle as being excellent candidates for retained ownership,” Cole said. “If the owner doesn’t choose to feed them out, they should share their genetic merit information with their marketer when selling as feeder calves. They can document this merit via the EPD profiles of the sires they’ve been using. Hopefully, the bulls will have genomic data factored into their EPDs.”

EPDs are indispensable when a producer is using genetic selection to better their stock. According to the University of Arkansas Extension, the use of genetic prediction (EPSs) is one of the most powerful tools in the hands of the beef cattle producer. It is dependent upon the producer’s ability to understand the use of EPDs in selecting breeding stock with superior genetic merit to increase the proportion of genes having the desired effect on traits of economic importance. The concept of an EPD is very easy to understand because it is truly the expected progeny difference in performance. EPDs are more valuable than individual performance records, within herd ratios or performance tests because all of these pieces of information are taken into consideration in calculating an EPD. Although the methodology is complicated and the initial contribution of time is substantial, EPDs are actually very convenient to use.

A unique way to obtain post-weaning performance data that can be used for genetic selection later on is to participate in a feedout program. These programs allow participants to bring their steers to a feedlot where all the cattle are housed, fed, managed and harvested the same way; a panel of experts in the cattle industry will evaluate the steer’s gains, profit, carcass quality, etc. The owners of the steers then receive this data and can evaluate their current herd genetics, and use what they’ve learned from the feedout to make improvements. Cole said those types of programs can give the producer valuable data with low risks. 

The bottom line when it comes to making herd improvements with genetic selection is to use and study herd data, and to keep in mind that numbers don’t lie. “If you want to use the genetic approach to improvement, study your genetic lesson well and use objective data to the max,” said Cole. “Use artificial insemination sires with high accuracy EPDs. Don’t let physical appearance or show ring wins cause you to disregard objective data.”


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