Efficient animals are profitable animals

Efficient animals are critical to the profitability of an operation. Thoughtful choices in selective breeding, management and culling can increase the efficiency of a producer’s herd.

How can producers improve their herd’s overall efficiency through selective breeding? 

Andy McCorkill, livestock field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, explained that the first steps are to measure the variables of economic relevance and compare individuals against the whole group and acceptable industry standards. These will vary from farm to farm, depending on marketing plans, whether or not heifers are retained for replacement or bred females are bought, he explained. Having data on each animal is particularly useful. Evaluating EPDs, genomic information and individual performance can be useful for making breeding choices. “Improving herd performance takes time and a lot of work, both mentally and physically, to know your cows and your farm as a whole. Sending cattle through a feedout program where you can get feeding and carcass information back on a few head can open a producer’s eyes to how their breeding decisions stack up,” McCorkill advised. 

What are some of the traits an efficient animal should possess?

From a breeding standpoint, reproductive performance is of utmost importance. 

“A cow’s job is to have a calf every 365 days and raise that calf to be acceptable at weaning. If she doesn’t fall relatively close to that, she isn’t doing her job, and it should be considered to put her on the cull list,” McCorkill said. 

If a producer records a cow that consistently weans a calf below average weaning weight, she should be considered for culling. Feedlot and carcass performance, while more critical to those who retain ownership of some or all of their calf crop through the feeding phase, shouldn’t be entirely overlooked by producers because all calves wind up on the rail at some point; 

McCorkill noted that carcass performance can help with marketability as well. As far as mature cows, feed efficiency can be evaluated by how well the cow holds body condition.”

“For the most part, we shouldn’t be able to see more than a faint outline of a few ribs on the cow’s side. We want the cows to do as much for themselves on grass as they can; that’s a sign of efficiency,” McCorkill explained. 

Producers should also consider cow size on their list of efficient traits. McCorkill explained that ideal cow size will vary by producer, but to keep in mind that the larger a cow is, the more she must eat to maintain condition. 

At what point might an animal be considered too inefficient to keep? 

Profitability is the most important trait to select for, McCorkill advised. 

When a breeding animal reaches the point where they are not profitable, culling or management changes are necessary. Age, pregnancy status and phenotypic attributes should be considered when a producer makes culling decisions. 

Using a checkmark or strike system to evaluate culling decisions is a potential strategy to help producers make effective decisions.


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