The top areas to focus time and money for herd advancement

Many cattlemen and women are poised to rebuild their operations after liquidating parts of their herds due to droughts over the past few years. “The last I checked we are at the lowest cow inventory we have been at since the early 1960s. So, as we rebuild there are a lot of things to pay attention to in regard to our production environment,” Mark Johnson, Ph.D., professor and extension specialist for livestock evaluation at Oklahoma State University, said.

As people begin to search for cattle to bring into their programs or plan matings to produce replacements, there are some tactics to keep in mind to improve the genetics of a commercial cow herd. 

Sire Selection

“It’s harder to replace entire cow herds than it is to pick out bulls,” Dr. Johnson said. When determining what steps to take to make genetic improvements in a commercial herd, one of the first strategies to consider is sire selection. “The thing I always get back to is 80 to 90 percent of all genetic change is a result of sire selection,” Dr. Johnson added.

Producers will want to analyze what kind of calves the sire will potentially produce, especially when it comes to future replacement females. “Sire selection is a critical component in building the cow herds and making sure that the bulls we select to bring into our operation are going to leave the daughters that fit our operation as cows,” Dr. Johnson stated. 

Regardless of whether a producer chooses to utilize AI or natural service, placing an emphasis on sire selection should infuse better genetics into the herd. “If we elect to bred AI or use natural service sires, I think each producer owes it to themselves to take a look at the genetic values that are going to end up returning cows that fit and add profit potential for them in their production system,” Dr. Johnson explained.

AI or Natural Service

Determining whether it is more feasible to use AI or natural service varies from one operation to the next. Utilizing AI can give producers the opportunity to use some genetically superior genetics that they may not have access to otherwise. 

Incorporating AI into a commercial herd needs to fit the producer’s production system from a facilities, labor and management standpoint. If utilizing AI works for the producer from a management perspective, then it is a good strategy to implement to advance the genetics of the cow herd.

Maternal Emphasis

Many people are currently operating with a reduced cow inventory. As producers start to re-build there are some maternal traits to focus on that will help to improve the overall genetic foundation of the herd.

“We want to be aware of mature size, fertility genetics, maternal milk genetics, calving ease maternal genetics – all those things that indicate maternal performance that we have genetic values for are going to be critical to us as we especially look at herd building and replacement females,” Dr. Johnson said. To determine what kind of cows work best, producers will want to take a look at their production system wholistically and take inventory of the maternal traits they deem are the best for their operation.


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