Finding the right balance in genetics

In a world consumed with the next best thing, cattle producers may find themselves in a genetic dilemma. Producers striving for moderation in their herds must make the decision to take the path of middle-of-the-road genetics, compared to chasing extremes. Finding the right balance isn’t always easy, but there are some guidelines to keep in mind when looking to take a moderate approach in breeding decisions.

Multiple Traits

First, livestock specialists encourage producers to focus on several traits instead of emphasizing just one trait when making breeding selections. “Multiple trait selection is always best because there are some traits that are genetically correlated with other traits. If you try to go extreme on one trait, you could negatively affect another trait that may be of economic value,” Bryan Kutz, Ph.D., professor in the Animal Science Department at the University of Arkansas, explained.

For example, zeroing in on low birthweight to boost calving ease may impact the calf’s growth rate. Or if producers concentrate on extreme milk or growth, then it may cost them more in the future in terms of cow maintenance. “So, moderation is key, but you don’t want to go so far that you lose performance,” Dr. Kutz advised. 

Additionally, Dr. Kutz encourages producers to consider the impact of selecting herd sires based on extremely low birthweight EPDs. “A lot of people think negative birthweight EPDs are best no matter what, but at the same time you are also going to get smaller calves. And if you keep heifers for replacements out of those low birthweight bulls then those heifers themselves tend to be also smaller and could potentially have more issues calving,” Dr. Kutz stated. 

Evaluating EPDs

Producers looking for a perfect fit for their herd can find bulls that are above average for multiple traits. There are also some unique bulls that possess the ability to produce lightweight calves that also grow quickly. Most breeds provide producers with a wide variety of EPD values to assess the expected performance of future offspring. “There are several bulls out there that are above average for multiple traits and to be honest, as many EPDs that are out there, there is a whole conglomerate of things to look at now more than ever to stay focused on moderation of all traits,” Dr. Kutz shared.

Even if producers are selecting a bull because of his performance in several key traits, livestock specialists encourage producers to take a close look at the EPD indices that reflect end product success. “Because the ultimate goal of raising beef cattle is to put beef on the plate and there are carcass values, there are all types of values out there for every breed that you need to pay attention to, because you don’t want to select for three or four traits and then lose sight of what our ultimate goal is which is the end product,” Dr. Kutz said. 

Most breed associations offer one EPD that combines several EPDs into one number that predicts the value of the end product in regard to marbling, ribeye area, dollar feedlot and many more. The one all-purpose indices combine all the traits into one number. For example, in Angus the EPD is $C and in Simmental it is API (All-Purpose Index). The one trait covers the basis for many important characteristics. 

Physical Appearance

Evaluating EPDs and selecting based on many traits sets producers up for success, it is also important to assess an animal’s physical appearance. “There are so many subjective traits to evaluate that don’t come with an EPD or a number that are still very important with respect to longevity and productive value,” Dr. Kutz said. “There is a lot of value in phenotype that cannot be measured and put into a number and made into an EPD.” 


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