Producers should be focused on what the ultimate goal is 

Safe to say, from one cattle operation to the next goals are as uniquely diverse as the producers themselves. Livestock extension specialists encourage producers to formulate thoughtful and attainable genetic objectives that are suitable for their operations. “If we don’t have an end goal in mind, then we are kind of driving all over the place,” Jamie Courter, Ph.D., University of Missouri State Beef Genetics Extension Specialist, said. 

One of the keys to a successful operation is the development of specific and measurable genetic goals. “It is the difference between shooting a shotgun and being rifle focused on where we are trying to go. In order to create that genetic change or to see that increase in profitability faster we have to be consistent,” Courter explained. 

Getting Started: A good starting point for producers is to set goals based on how they make money. “Whatever drives the profitability of your operation are the factors you need to consider when creating a breeding objective,” Courter said. 

Producers can begin by pausing to consider what they do and why do they do it. Then, based on their answers they have a starting point for genetic goal setting. For example, if the operation focuses on selling commercial calves at weaning, then part of the operation’s goal would include strategies to improve weaning weights.  

Specialists recommend producers develop genetic goals with the SMART acronym in mind – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.   

“If you have just this general goal of – I want a cow herd that pays for itself. That is not specific enough to be profitable and make genetic change,” Courter stated. “If it is specific in that I want low-birth weight, calving ease females that wean a 500-to-600-pound calf, then that is specific and something we can try to achieve,” she added.  

Breeding Objective: When producers adhere to consistent goals, it helps to drive genetic progress forward. Additionally, when producers work to achieve targeted breeding objectives it helps with consistency of selection. The specifics of the goals for genetic improvement depend on the needs of the operation.

Take for example an operation that breeds and raises its own replacement females. One of the most expensive parts of a cattle operation is developing females to the age in which they can start having calves. Courter encourages producers to set goals around fertility by targeting traits such as heifer pregnancy, sustained cow fertility or stayability. “We have to make sure we are also taking care of that maternal side so the cows are there for a long time and can pay for themselves,” Courter said. 

Incorporating objectives that concentrate on cattle conformation can also help producers meet their targets for genetic improvement. An animal’s feet, legs and udder all impact the performance and the health of the dam as well as the performance of the calf.

Tools of the Trade: New genetic tools and advancements are available to assist producers wanting to be more precise in their genetic decisions and mating selections. One such example is the availability of genomic-enhanced EPDs.  

“Being rifle focused and having an end goal in mind is what is going to help a producer pass their operation down to the next generation. It may seem overwhelming, there are lots of tools and new technologies that weren’t around 20 years ago that have come available to help,” Courter stated.


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