Factors to think about when considering breeding and feeding programs

To turn a profit off of the farm, producers must develop marketable livestock that appeals to their demographic. There are a number of things that go into raising a really nice animal, and while each farm will vary in their development program, there are some consistencies that tend to crop up.

Genetics: No matter what type of livestock call the farm home, good genetics are essential to creating a consistent animal to market.

Genetics is a fairly extensive topic, but generally, producers will want to select animals that fit their breed standard, flesh out well (if the animals are being sold for meat), are fairly hardy and parasite resistant, and are good mothers (or produce good mothers, if the animal in question is a male).

When working on developing their herd or flock on their own farm, producers should be cautious not breeding too closely (i.e. inbreeding). While it may be tempting to preserve certain attributes through close breeding, over time this practice can create inbreeding depression and lead to genetic disorders that negatively affect the herd. It is helpful when considering the genetics of a respective breeding program for producers to familiarize themselves with Wright’s Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) – this can help determine how closely current breeding matches are related, and how related future offspring will be.

To aid in breeding and culling decisions, genetic testing is a useful practice.

“Information sells, but it important to understand that not every animal comes out ahead with a genomic test. I encourage folks to use the information as much as possible for herd use as a tool in breeding and culling decisions,” advised Andy McCorkill, livestock field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension and a registered Hereford seedstock breeder. “I recently heard a Hereford breeder I think a lot of say that everyone could stand for some more culling, meaning that at all times half your herd is performing under average. That’s what genomic information can do; help you find those animals that aren’t going to perform before you have to find out the hard way. Of course, if the results come out favorably, it can add a good degree of value to the animals you sell. Even with commercial cattle, buyers appreciate good information that helps take the risk out of their decision to buy your stock. If your cattle shine in a particular area, use it to your benefit and let it help sell your cattle. There is certainly a market for high quality cattle and we are continuously searching out those cattle that hit the mark; genomic information is simply a tool that helps us hit that target.”

Feed: To develop a marketable animal, it takes feed. Buying feed is one area where producers often need better efficiency.  Each animal and each farm is different, so the best way to maximize efficiency is to know exactly what they need.

“Extension publications are a good place to start with gathering information about the nutrient needs of livestock. These can be obtained with the help of an Extension agent or Internet search,” said Dr. Shane Gadberry, professor of ruminant nutrition at the University of Arkansas.

Once a producer knows their animals’ dietary needs, they must determine the amount of necessary nutrients they are already receiving.

“This can be the more challenging step because in many instances, the livestock producer doesn’t know how much feed was eaten,” said Gadberry.

While you can usually tell how much grain your livestock are eating if you feed strictly out of a trough, it can be far more difficult to determine what is being eaten if you’re feeding hay or your stock is on pasture.

“In this case, we usually rely on methods to predict intake from body weight and dietary energy,” said Gadberry.

“The mention of dietary energy leads to the second part of determining how much nutrients livestock are getting from their diet. Purchased feeds come with a guaranteed analysis that shows minimums and maximums for various nutrients. However, the complete nutrient profile may not be disclosed, only the portion that is guaranteed is shown. It is important to know if the feed is a complete feed or if it is intended to be a supplement.”

Environment: Every farm or ranch is its own unique environment, but there are some “must-have” components to ensure that livestock develop well for their end purpose. Adequate feed, a constant supply of clean fresh water, room to exercise and some form of appropriate shelter will lead to happy, healthy, well developed animals.


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