Category: EPDs

Bull Selection: What are you looking for?

Editor’s note: The following is part two of a four-part series that will help you to evaluate different breeding programs, which bulls are optimal for your herd, and how much they’re worth. (Seepart one).

Bull selection is one of the most important decisions for cow-calf producers, with implications for short- and long-term profitability of the operation. The choice of bull can be immediately seen in the subsequent calf crop.

If the operation retains heifers and/or bulls, the genetics in the selected bull will be passed down to subsequent generations. Introducing new genetics is a permanent change to the herd, compared to the temporary nature of supplements or management practices. As such, bull selection can be seen as a long-term investment into the operation.

Research in the area of beef cattle genetics has been growing significantly. There are opportunities to improve profitability through sire selection. However, with a multitude of traits, breed differences, operational goals, and management practices, bull selection is a complex decision.

There are a range of different beef operations in Canada, and there is no one type of bull that is optimal for all operations. Bull selection depends on many factors such as management style, calving season, labour availability, age when calves are marketed, heifer retention practices, and nutritional management.

Before selecting a bull, operational goals should be established and the management and breeding practices (see Part 1) that fit those goals determined.

For example, a full-time producer who observes the cattle multiple times a day may not prioritize calving ease in a bull as much as an operation with limited labour. A farm with limited forage resources may prefer smaller cattle that are more efficient at converting low quality forage.

To assist with making bull selection decisions, consistent record keeping on the herd will help identify areas of strength and weakness in the herd and guide you towards the type of genetic change you want to see. Once operational goals and breeding programs have been determined a producer can focus in on specific Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) to guide their bull selection.

When selecting a bull, Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) are a helpful tool to predict bull performance. EPDs are the estimation of an animal genetic merit. They are compared to a breed average (not zero) and cannot be compared across breed. An explanation of EPDs can be found here and in NBCEC (2010).

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Table 2. Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) indicators by category

Calving ease is a key trait that influences profitability. It is estimated the majority of calf loss is a result of dystocia (difficulty calving). Dystocia results in higher labor costs, decreased calf survival, and delayed rebreeding for the cow resulting in younger calves at weaning the following year.

The EPD for calving ease takes into account numerous factors including birth weight. Studies suggest birth weight is the most important factor for calving ease – a one pound increase in birth weight increases the probability of dystocia by two percent (Herring, 1996). Birthweight, while important for calving ease, isn’t always a direct correlation, for example a larger frame score cow should have no problem giving birth to a 95 lb calf; whereas, a smaller frame score cow might, especially if that calf has a bigger head and shoulders. However, shoulder width and pelvic areas alone have not been shown to be useful predictors in calving ease (NBCEC, 2010). Purely focusing on low birth weights when selecting bulls can be ill-advised. As low birth weight is genetically correlated with weaning and yearling weights, such a breeding program may lead to lower growth performance (Herring, 1996).

“Labour availability, a high proportion of heifers, calving on pasture, or a new producer with limited time and experience, calving ease should be prioritized”

To determine the significance of calving ease in bull selection, the goals and type of the operation should be taken into consideration. For example, if there is low labour availability, a high proportion of heifers, calving on pasture, or a new producer with limited time and experience, calving ease should be prioritized. On the flip side, an intensive operation focused on selling large calves may not find calving ease to be as important. Calving ease may also be an important trait if calving in late winter (i.e., February), as cold weather has been linked to larger calves and lower calf survivability (Hamilton, 2010).

Other traits of interest are milk production and bull fertility.

High milk production results in increased weaning weights. However, it raises energy requirements for cows even when they are not lactating. If the cow-calf operation has low forage availability, selecting for high milk production may lead to feed shortages and undernourished cattle. If running a terminal system and not retaining any heifers, the milk production trait becomes less relevant.

Bull fertility is linked to higher semen quality and quantity, as well as a lower age of puberty for his daughters.

As already mentioned, there are potential trade-offs between birth weight and performance. A low birth weight may increase calving ease, but it is correlated with lower weaning weight. However, there are many cases where a low birth weight is warranted; for example, when labour availability is limited or when breeding heifers. A low birth weight can be compensated for by selecting for higher milk production; however, as milk production increases, the nutrient requirement of cows will also increase, although it’s not a direct 1:1 relationship. Selection for superior growth can lead to calving difficulty and cows too large for the existing forage resources.

When calves are marketed also affects bull selection. If calves are sold at weaning, producers can focus on traits associated with a higher weaning weight, such as milk production and weaning weight EPD. When ownership is retained, weaning weight is less of a priority, and the focus may shift to traits such as yearling weight and carcass indicators (e.g., carcass weight, ribeye area, fat thickness, marbling). EPDs can help remove some of the guessing game when it comes to carcass quality as visual appraisal of muscling does not have a strong link to carcass quality.

Bull conformation directly affects longevity, and his structural soundness is passed along to the cow herd. Conformation can be evaluated through visual appraisal. Key factors to look for are the bull’s ability to walk easily without discomfort, the slope and angle to the joints of the legs, free from defects of the claws (e.g. toes that cross over each other or turn up), and joints free of swelling and inflammation. Healthy legs and feet are particularly important for extensive operations and large pastures, especially if there is rough terrain or multiple bulls in a breeding field.

When looking at body condition, the goal is to choose a bull with a moderate score. If the score is low, the bull’s performance is reduced as they lose weight during the breeding season. If the body condition score is too high, sperm quality and stamina are adversely affected.

Temperament is another consideration for bull selection. Bulls that are aggressive, nervous, or flighty may be undesirable due to safety concerns (e.g. older operators or young children) or damage to facilities. On the other hand, as temperament is moderately heritable, overly docile cows can pose an issue if calving on pasture where predation is a concern.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution or a bull that is best for all scenarios, as the right genetics depend on the individual operation. Key EPDs include:

  • maternal and fertility traits (e.g. calving ease, milk production, bull fertility),
  • trade-offs between performance and carcass quality traits,
  • conformation and structural soundness.

For example, labour availability during calving season and how closely females are monitored will determine the emphasis on calving ease and birth weight EPDs when selecting a bull. Or if marketing calves at weaning or retaining ownership will influence trade-off producers are willing to live with. Is the higher birth weight and time spent at calving worthwhile come sale day when you see that weaning weight?

There are many different types of bulls available, and effective sire selection requires an understanding of the characteristics of the available genetics as well as your own operation. Deliberate alignment of the bull’s genetics to your operational goals will contribute to enhanced revenue and reduced costs.

Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) resources https://beefimprovement.org/library-2/fact-sheets

Kuehn, L. and M. Thallman. 2018 Across-Breed EPD Table and Improvements. Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) https://beefimprovement.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/18_ABEPDpressreleaseandfactsheet.pdf

Schmid, K. EPDs: What do all those numbers mean?http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/epds/

National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium (NBCEC). (2010). Beef Sire Selection Manual 2nd Edition. http://www.nbcec.org/producers/sire_selection/manual.pdf

Gosey, J.A. (1991). Crossbreeding Systems and The Theory Behind Composite Breedshttp://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1235&context=rangebeefcowsymp

Weaber, R.L. (2015). Crossbreeding Strategies: Including Terminal Vs. Maternal Crosseshttp://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1331&context=rangebeefcowsymp

Agriculture Victoria (2017). Breeds of Beef Cattle. http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/beef/breeds/breeds-of-beef-cattle Accessed January 16, 2019.

Evans, J. and McPeake, C.A. Crossbreeding Beef Cattle I. http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Rendition-2051/unknown Accessed January 20, 2019.

Gaines, J. A., McClure, W. H., Vogt, D. W., Carter, R. C., & Kincaid, C. M. (1966). Heterosis from crosses among British breeds of beef cattle: Fertility and calf performance to weaning. Journal of Animal Science 25(1): 5-13.

Gosey, J.A. (1991). Crossbreeding Systems and The Theory Behind Composite Breeds. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1235&context=rangebeefcowsympAccessed January 20, 2019.

Gregory, K. E., Cundiff, L. V., Koch, R. M., Laster, D. B., & Smith, G. M. (1978). Heterosis and Breed Maternal and Transmitted Effects in Beef Cattle I. Preweaning Traits 1, 2, 3, 6, 7. Journal of Animal Science 47(5), 1031-1041.

Hamilton, T. (2010). Summer Calving Can Be Super! http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/beef/facts/info_summer_calving.htm Accessed January 20, 2019.

Herring, W.O. 1996. Calving Difficulty in Beef Cattle: BIF Fact Sheet. https://extension2.missouri.edu/g2035 Accessed January 20, 2019.

Koger, M. (1980). Effective crossbreeding systems utilizing Zebu cattle. Journal of Animal Science 50:1215.

MacNeil, M. D. (2009). Invited review: Research contributions from seventy-five years of breeding Line 1 Hereford cattle at Miles City, Montana. Journal of Animal Science 87(8): 2489-2501.

National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium (NBCEC). (2010). Beef Sire Selection Manual 2nd Edition. http://www.nbcec.org/producers/sire_selection/manual.pdf Accessed January 20, 2019.

Northcutt, S.L., Buchanan, D.S., & Clutter, A.C. Inbreeding in Cattle. http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-1974/ANSI-3165web.pdfAccessed January 16, 2019.

Turner, J. W., Farthing, B. R., & Robertson, G. L. (1968). Heterosis in reproductive performance of beef cows. Journal of Animal Science 27(2): 336-338.

van der Westhuizen, B. (2016) Inbreeding vs Linebreeding. http://www.ngunicattle.info/Publications/Journals/2016/Inbreeding%20vs%20line-breeding.pdfAccessed January 20, 2019.

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Bull Selection Breeding Programs That Suit Operational Goals

Editor’s note: The following is part one of a four-part series that will help you to evaluate different breeding programs, which bulls are optimal for your herd, and how much they’re worth.

There are a range of different beef operations in Canada, and there is no one breeding program that is optimal for all operations. Breeding programs will be determined by operational goals and the management practices that fit those goals.

Here are some examples.

A producer that sells weaned calves at auction may choose a crossbreed program with high calving ease and a focus on performance gained from hybrid vigour; or they may prefer the uniformity of a purebred program with reputation premiums.

A producer that retains heifers and is looking for maternal replacements may be focused on maximizing the performance through inbreeding and outcrossing within a single breed; or they may develop FI crosses with higher reproductive performance and longevity.

These choices may be limited by the number of breeding fields available or the number a producer is willing to manage. There are a variety of breeding programs available, and effective sire selection requires an understanding of the characteristics of the available genetics as well as your own operation.

Each breed of cattle has distinct traits that allow them to excel in different geographical or management environments (Table 1). Depending on the goals of the operation, a sire can be chosen that has the potential to make positive changes for your operation in the areas you’ve identified for improvement.

Table 1. Comparison between beef cattle breeds in Canada (Adapted from Agriculture Victoria, 2017)

Indicators:
• E: Early, A: Average, L: Late
• S: Small, M: Medium, L: Large
• 1 = high/desirable; 5 = low/undesirable

Source: http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/beef/breeds/breeds-of-beef-cattle

Also see Beef Improvement Federation’s across breed EPDs

Purebred

The advantage of the purebred or straight-bred approach of using only one breed is a homogeneous herd where cattle responses to environmental and nutritional factors are easier to predict. There will be consistency in nutritional needs, weaning, yearling, or finishing weights, and days on feed. The largest advantage is the ability to market a relatively uniform product, but ease of planning, and providing breeding stock forcommercial operations intending to maximize hybrid vigour may also be considerations.

When the parents have very similar genetics, the calf is more likely to have two sets of identical genes (homozygosity), which can have beneficial effects if the genes are associated with superior performance. However, negative traits can also show up with homozygosity. This can lead to the expression of abnormal traits, such as lethal recessives (e.g. curly calf syndrome, dwarfism, neuropathic hydrocephalus, etc.) It can also have more subtle effects on overall performance by increasing the amount “inbreeding depression” in the population.

Inbreeding depression is a reduction in performance due to the mating of highly related individuals, and it most negatively affects reproductive traits, followed by growth traits, but seems to have little effect on carcass traits. It is associated with an increased percent of open cows and stillbirths, with decreased levels of survival, growth, and overall performance (Northcutt et al). Generally, caution must be exercised when inbreeding as there is a high risk of performance reduction if the breeding program is not managed very carefully.

Three common purposes of inbreeding are to:

  • to test a bull for the presence of undesirable genetics that show up with inbreeding
  • develop inbred lines for a crossbreeding system
  • linebreed, or to maintain the genetic contribution of a genetically superior individual in the larger population

Linebreeding seeks to preserve and continually improve upon the genetics of a high performing ancestor. While linebreeding mates closely related individuals, it seeks to minimize the level of homozygosity (and thus inbreeding depression) while maintaining a high level of relationship to the high performing ancestor. Linebreeding is typically merited when there is difficulty finding outside bulls with sufficient performance to improve the herd.

Key components of a successful linebreeding program include:

  • individuals selected for a linebreeding program must be of superior quality with no genetic defects
  • meticulous record keeping of breeding history, parentage records, and animal performance
  • aggressive culling at signs of defects or lower performance – the starting herd should be as large as possible to accommodate aggressive culling
  • keeping inbreeding levels low

To keep inbreeding levels low, the recommendation is to keep the genetic contribution of the same ancestor to 50% or less (van der Westhuizen, 2016). To illustrate, the progeny of mating a daughter to her sire will have 75% of genetics from the sire. Generally, matings that involve full siblings and parents to offspring are discouraged. Instead, matings of uncle/niece, half siblings, and first cousins are potential strategies.

Outcrossing, or the breeding to non-relatives or distant relatives (i.e., at least 4 generations away) within a breed, is the most widely used mating strategy in purebred herds. Outcrossing can be used to increase performance levels, avoid inbreeding depression, and restore performance lost to inbreeding depression (Evans and McPeake). The more genetically dissimilar the animals, the larger the potential benefit. One drawback of this system is that, if the outcrossed progeny were to be mated, it is more difficult to predict the phenotype of the calves due to the variation in genetic background.

Crossbreeding

With crossbreeding, cattle from different breeds are mated. As the genetics from both parents can be very different, both the positive and negative effects seen in outcrossing are magnified with crossbreeding. Crossbred herds are much more unpredictable in terms of calf weight, maturity time, and nutritional demands. However, there are two key advantages:

  • Heterosis or Hybrid vigor – this is the opposite of the performance reducing effects of inbreeding depression. Heterosis provides improvements, especially in the area of reproduction and growth. The effect of hybrid vigor is dependent on the animal having two different copies of a gene, where the more unrelated the breeds, the larger the potential improvements.
  • Breed complementarity – where the strengths of two different breeds are combined. For example, when mating Charolais bulls to Hereford-Angus crossbred cows, the Charolais bull contributes growth and performance genetics, while the Hereford-Angus cows have desirable maternal and carcass quality attributes. This may not be seen in every individual animal, but is observed in herd averages.

Studies (Gaines et al., 1966; Turner et al., 1968) have found that compared to purebred, crossbred cows have a 10% increase in calf crop and calves weaned, with the calving percentage of the crossbred cows being consistently higher than their parents. Gregory et al. (1978) found crossbred cattle to be 7 kg heavier and 9 days younger at puberty than their purebred counterparts.

Crossbreeding improves reproductive performance, longevity, and maternal ability of the cow. This is manifested through increased calf survival rate, as well as increased weaning weight. Overall, the performance improvements from crossbreeding can have significant impacts on the bottom line of beef producers.

There are many crossbreeding strategies, for example:

  • 2 or 3 breed rotation,
  • terminal cross,
  • bull rotation, or
  • composite breeds.

A terminal cross is where both parents are purebreds of different breeds, and the resulting calves are a 50:50 mix. However, to maintain this specific breed ratio, replacement breeding stock from purebred herds must be used instead of rebreeding the offspring.

Another strategy is mixed breeds, where multiple breeds are used without maintaining specific ratios of each breed in the progeny. While this strategy does not require complex breeding management, there is lower uniformity and a higher level of uncertainty regarding calf performance.

The optimal strategy will depend on the operation itself; for example, if calves are sold at a pre-sort sale or are part of a large group and able to fill an entire feedlot pen, uniformity becomes less important.

For further reading on crossbreeding, NBCEC (2010) introduces an overview of different strategies and Gosey (1991) presents a more in-depth discussion.

There are also challenges and considerations associated with a crossbreeding system (NBCEC, 2010):

  • a small herd (i.e., less than 50 cows) can limit choice in crossbreeding strategies
  • a higher requirement for breeding pastures and bull breeds for the more complex crossbreeding strategies (e.g., rotational systems)
  • more record keeping and cow identification as the current breed composition of cows can affect sire and heifer replacement selection
  • less uniformity in progeny
  • no crossbreeding system can overcome low quality bulls

There is no one-size-fits-all solution or breeding program that is best for all scenarios, as the right genetics depend on the individual operation. Key determining factors include: the management style of the operation, heifer retention (i.e., terminal versus maternal sires), number of breeding fields, and time of marketing. For example, a farm that auctions their calves at weaning may choose a mixed breed program with high calving ease, while a farm that direct markets their beef may prefer the uniformity of a purebred program.

There are many different types of bulls available, and effective sire selection requires an understanding of the characteristics of the available genetics as well as your own operation. Deliberate alignment of the bull’s genetics to your operational goals will contribute to enhanced revenue and reduced costs.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for part two in this four-part series.

Genomics and profitability are closely tied

Hannah Garrett of Diamond Peak Cattle Company in Craig, Colo., believes in genomics and good cattle. Genomics, the study of the DNA within a living structure, is important to any cattleman hoping to improve the genetics of his or her herd.

Genomic testing, she said, deals with the changes of the base pairs in terms of the expression of birth weight, calving ease and carcass traits. Through science, research, and academia, Garrett said changes in base pairs can be directly tied to the changes that are directly tied to an operation’s bottom line.

At her Colorado Farm Show presentation, Garrett pointed to her genetic results from a site like 23 and Me. Her results showed her high percentage of Scandinavian blood but her favorite portion of the results, she said, was the 3 percent uncertain result. It’s an illustration that the science is not perfect in either the beef cattle or human segment, leaving room for improvement.

Garrett said there are three main applications for genomics in the beef cattle industry today: parentage, genetic defects and genomic profiles.

“When we think about the future and where this technology is headed, we think about things like disease detection or being able to identify calves that have a higher susceptibility to BRD,” she said. “That would be huge, right, if you’re a feedlot operator and could, from the very beginning, identify by the genome, calves that are more likely to get sick.”

Genomics and profitability are closely tied. For an operation that turns bulls out, genomics can ensure that the bulls being kept — and fed all year — are siring a reasonable number of calves to earn their keep. She said it can also shed light upon the most effective sire and dam crosses and the heritable traits that make it so.

“Maybe it’s a specific sire group that works well when you cross it on top of your cow family,” she said. “You can chase that sire group, use that sire group more, and get more of that type and kind of calves that will bring more value for you.”

This translates to dollars on the scale, as well as the ability to select and retain the highest quality replacement heifers. The cost of improved genetics in the form of bulls is a major consideration for many operations and Garrett said parentage testing can allow producers to keep heifers resulting from this investment to continue to grow the investment.

Garrett said whether a producer is retaining ownership to the rail or weaning and shipping calves, the product being produced is beef, and genomics can ensure the quality of the product is one that is high and will result in demand. Genomically enhanced EPDs is a blending of traditional EPDs with genomic information and is often referred to as a 50K. These enhanced EPDs increase the accuracy of the traditional EPDs. Single step, or BOLT, is the math behind this development and Garrett said it is the algorithm breed associations use to blend the two sets of EPD data. Single step, or BOLT, takes relatedness into consideration.

“Traditionally, we assumed you were 50 percent your mom, and 50 percent your dad,” she said. “But you’re not. You’re 52 percent your mom, and 48 percent your dad. More importantly, rather than being 25 percent of each grandparent, you’re more like 27 and 23.”

CONSISTENT RESULTS

This becomes important in cattle, she said, when determining relatedness to a dam or sire and the attributes they possess and pass on. While EPD data changes over time, she said there is less change when genomics and EPDs are combined. As a bull buyer, this allows a higher degree of confidence in EPD data. As populations grow and more data is assigned to a bull, variability decreases over time. For seedstock producers working to produce consistent results, genomics are vital.

“As Mr. Walter told me, I want to know I can sleep at night and that the bulls I sell are the bulls that go out and perform and have the calves I expect them to have,” she said. “Seedstock producers are trying to create a relationship with you and they want you to come back. In order to do that, they’re trying to offer you the most consistent product they can.”

Genomics combined with EPDs can offer producers the confidence to select for the traits that are the most likely to return on their investment but Garrett said bulls still need to be sound and able to do their job so he has the opportunity to bring profit back to the operation. It takes, she said, the variability out of sire selection.

Heifer selection and genomics can be driven by seedstock or commercial profiles to define values in terms of maternal performance and carcass traits. Information is gathered and returned on birth weight, calving ease, milk, stayability and heifer pregnancy.

“If we can identify the heifers that will make better cows and have more calves, that puts us in a higher degree of profitability,” she said. “If we know a heifer is more or less likely to fall out of the herd and not remain as a cow, that’s a big deal because we know cows have to be in the herd for at least six years to pay themselves off.”

Culling those heifers based on genomic results can save thousands of dollars for the producer and save time wasted by developing the wrong heifers.

Carcass traits determined by genomic testing can also translate to dollars, especially for those producers retaining ownership and feeding calves that may be docked on the rail. Identifying and feeding calves with the carcass traits most desirable in an operation, she said, is money in the pockets by reducing discounts.

“Not everybody is set up to retain ownership but maybe if you could use a tool to identify the top end of your calves that are going to feed, and are more likely to gain premiums, it might be something you could pencil into your operation,” she said. ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.

Marketing seedstock: Make it count

Progressive Cattleman Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 19 November 2018

“There are no new customers,” Rick Cozzitorto, president of Angus Media, warned National Angus Convention attendees in November. “The only way you get them is to steal them.”

While that might sound a little harsh, Cozzitorto has a point. He explained that 20 years ago, there were around 800,000 commercial cattlemen and now that number has dropped to 600,000. Likewise, there used to be roughly 200 Angus sales a year, now there are 1,250 Angus sales a year.

“We’re not growing any more [cattlemen]. There is no more land, no more cattle, that’s how you do it. And that’s all done through marketing.”

To be effective marketers, Cozzitorto told attendees they need to:

  1. Establish awareness
  2. Get customers to consider their business
  3. Get customers to convert
  4. Establish loyalty

The challenge, however, is there are only eight seconds to do it.

Citing a study from Microsoft Corp., Cozzitorto pointed out that the average consumer’s attention span is only eight seconds, thanks to an increasingly digitalized lifestyle. That doesn’t give breeders much time to educate a new customer about their program and ultimately, get them to convert.

Sara Reardon, also with Angus Media, referred to the awareness and consideration phase as an “elevator speech.” Basically, she said, “make sure you are not everything to everyone. If you’re explaining your business in a paragraph, what’s really special about that? You need to be able to say who you are and what you do in eight seconds.”

Diving a little deeper, Reardon told attendees to think about what promises they can deliver and if they are realistic. She pointed out that delivering the best cattle in the U.S. probably shouldn’t be on the list. Rather, she encouraged them to ask questions such as: What values are important to their organization? What makes their business unique? What are they doing for their customers? And from there, define their purpose and translate it into a mission statement.

“It’s your guiding phrase for your business,” Reardon said. “It focuses all decisions and the way you operate. Once you’ve established that mission statement, you might be surprised when you look back at your marketing materials and find that you probably weren’t as focused as you thought you were.” She encouraged breeders to set aside time to look at their website, current ads, social media and sale books to make sure their message is consistent.

Reardon also addressed the looming question: Is there a return on investment? While breeders might feel like they are throwing away much-needed cash, Reardon noted a study showing that with consistent delivery of brand image and message, business revenue can increase by 23 percent. “Did it happen immediately with just one ad? Absolutely not,” she said. On average, consumers have to see an ad seven times before they will even notice it.

In terms of budgeting, Reardon told attendees to look at their projected gross income and then develop their budget from there. If awareness is what a breeder needs, they can expect to spend 3 to 5 percent of their projected gross revenue. If they want people to start to convert, they can expect to spend 7 to 8 percent, and if they want to make a real impact, they should expect to spend 10 to 15 percent.

She said, “If you’re not willing to invest to reach those averages, maybe you need to adjust your expectation of what you’re going to get out of those ads.”

Both Reardon and Cozzitorto agree that it is much cheaper to maintain current customers than it is to find new ones. In fact, Cozzitorto said, a loyal customer is 50 percent more likely to buy a second bull, a second heifer, semen or a new product the business is offering, whereas it’s seven times more costly to gain a new customer.

“Take care of the ones you have, return that phone call, fix the problems, do everything you possibly can because they are loyal and they’ll stay with you,” he said. “If you lose a customer, it is your fault.”

Lastly, Cozzitorto encouraged attendees to spend some time researching their competition. How many ads do they run? Do they have a website? Are they on social media? He said, “We have people who breed great cattle and get average prices, and we have people who breed average cattle and get great prices. The difference is really just marketing.”

Marketing seedstock: Make it count

Progressive Cattleman Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 19 November 2018

“There are no new customers,” Rick Cozzitorto, president of Angus Media, warned National Angus Convention attendees in November. “The only way you get them is to steal them.”

While that might sound a little harsh, Cozzitorto has a point. He explained that 20 years ago, there were around 800,000 commercial cattlemen and now that number has dropped to 600,000. Likewise, there used to be roughly 200 Angus sales a year, now there are 1,250 Angus sales a year.

“We’re not growing any more [cattlemen]. There is no more land, no more cattle, that’s how you do it. And that’s all done through marketing.”

To be effective marketers, Cozzitorto told attendees they need to:

  1. Establish awareness
  2. Get customers to consider their business
  3. Get customers to convert
  4. Establish loyalty

The challenge, however, is there are only eight seconds to do it.

Citing a study from Microsoft Corp., Cozzitorto pointed out that the average consumer’s attention span is only eight seconds, thanks to an increasingly digitalized lifestyle. That doesn’t give breeders much time to educate a new customer about their program and ultimately, get them to convert.

Sara Reardon, also with Angus Media, referred to the awareness and consideration phase as an “elevator speech.” Basically, she said, “make sure you are not everything to everyone. If you’re explaining your business in a paragraph, what’s really special about that? You need to be able to say who you are and what you do in eight seconds.”

Diving a little deeper, Reardon told attendees to think about what promises they can deliver and if they are realistic. She pointed out that delivering the best cattle in the U.S. probably shouldn’t be on the list. Rather, she encouraged them to ask questions such as: What values are important to their organization? What makes their business unique? What are they doing for their customers? And from there, define their purpose and translate it into a mission statement.

“It’s your guiding phrase for your business,” Reardon said. “It focuses all decisions and the way you operate. Once you’ve established that mission statement, you might be surprised when you look back at your marketing materials and find that you probably weren’t as focused as you thought you were.” She encouraged breeders to set aside time to look at their website, current ads, social media and sale books to make sure their message is consistent.

Reardon also addressed the looming question: Is there a return on investment? While breeders might feel like they are throwing away much-needed cash, Reardon noted a study showing that with consistent delivery of brand image and message, business revenue can increase by 23 percent. “Did it happen immediately with just one ad? Absolutely not,” she said. On average, consumers have to see an ad seven times before they will even notice it.

In terms of budgeting, Reardon told attendees to look at their projected gross income and then develop their budget from there. If awareness is what a breeder needs, they can expect to spend 3 to 5 percent of their projected gross revenue. If they want people to start to convert, they can expect to spend 7 to 8 percent, and if they want to make a real impact, they should expect to spend 10 to 15 percent.

She said, “If you’re not willing to invest to reach those averages, maybe you need to adjust your expectation of what you’re going to get out of those ads.”

Both Reardon and Cozzitorto agree that it is much cheaper to maintain current customers than it is to find new ones. In fact, Cozzitorto said, a loyal customer is 50 percent more likely to buy a second bull, a second heifer, semen or a new product the business is offering, whereas it’s seven times more costly to gain a new customer.

“Take care of the ones you have, return that phone call, fix the problems, do everything you possibly can because they are loyal and they’ll stay with you,” he said. “If you lose a customer, it is your fault.”

Lastly, Cozzitorto encouraged attendees to spend some time researching their competition. How many ads do they run? Do they have a website? Are they on social media? He said, “We have people who breed great cattle and get average prices, and we have people who breed average cattle and get great prices. The difference is really just marketing.”  end mark

Cassidy Woolsey

PHOTO: Rick Cozzitorto, president of Angus Media, speaks to National Angus Convention attendees in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Cassidy Woolsey.

Updated across-breed EPD adjustment factors released

Expected progeny differences (EPDs) have resulted in substantial, positive genetic change in the cattle industry since their inception in the 1970s. However, because breed associations often use different national evaluation programs, EPDs of animals from different breeds cannot be compared because most breed associations compute their EPDs in separate analyses and each breed has a different base point.

BBG19 Bob&Kerry AcrossBreed EPDs
Acrossbreed EPD adjustment factors for 2019

Since 1993, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) has produced a table of factors to adjust the EPDs of cattle so that the merit of individuals can be compared across breeds. These are called across-breed EPD (ABEPD) adjustment factors.

The across-breed adjustment factors allow producers to compare the EPDs for animals from different breeds for these traits; these factors reflect both the current breed difference (for animals born in 2016) and differences in the breed base point.

Updated across-breed EPD adjustment factors released

The factors are derived by estimating breed differences from the USMARC germplasm evaluation program and adjusting these differences for the EPDs of the sires that were sampled in the system. The traits for which factors are estimated are birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, maternal weaning weight (milk), marbling score, ribeye area, backfat depth, and carcass weight (Table 1). These factors adjust the EPDs to an Angus base (chosen arbitrarily).

Adjustment factors for carcass traits have been calculated since 2009 and carcass weight was added in 2015; to be included, breeds must have carcass data in the USMARC database and report their carcass EPDs on an actual carcass basis using an age-adjusted endpoint.

Bulls of different breeds can be compared on the same EPD scale by adding the appropriate adjustment factor to the EPDs produced in the most recent genetic evaluations for each of the 18 breeds.

The ABEPDs are most useful to commercial producers purchasing bulls of more than one breed to use in cross-breeding programs. For example, in terminal cross-breeding systems, ABEPDs can identify bulls in different breeds with high growth potential or favorable carcass characteristics.

As an example, suppose a Charolais bull has a weaning weight EPD of + 25.0 lbs. and a Hereford bull has a weaning weight EPD of + 70.0 lbs. The across-breed adjustment factors for weaning weight (see Table 1) are 32.7 lbs. for Charolais and -16.5 lbs. for Hereford. The ABEPD is 25.0 lbs. + 32.7 lbs. = 57.7 lbs. for the Charolais bull and 70.0 – 16.5 = 53.5 lbs. for the Hereford bull.

The expected weaning weight difference of offspring when both are mated to cows of another breed (e.g., Angus) would be 57.7 lbs. – 53.5 lbs. = 4.2 lbs.

It is important to note that the table factors (Table 1) do not represent a direct comparison among the different breeds because of base differences between the breeds. They should only be used to compare the EPDs of animals in different breeds.

To reduce confusion, breed of sire means (i.e., one half of full breed effect; breed of sire means predict differences when bulls from two different breeds are mated to cows of a third, unrelated breed) for animals born in 2016 under conditions similar to USMARC are presented in Table 2.

The adjustment factors in Table 1 were updated using EPDs from the most recent national cattle evaluations conducted by each of the 18 breed associations (current as of December 2018).

The breed differences used to calculate the factors are based on comparisons of progeny of sires from each of these breeds in the Germplasm Evaluation Program at US MARC in Clay Center, NE. These analyses were conducted by US MARC geneticists Larry Kuehn and Mark Thallman.

Future release of ABEPD factors

The ABEPD factors were traditionally derived and released during the annual Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) conference each year. However, this is not ideal for commercial producers buying bulls in the spring or fall season.

A BIF working group recommended a plan to begin releasing the ABEPD factors near the beginning of each year to facilitate the use of these tools during spring bull buying. That began last year.

Additional updates may be released throughout the year, particularly if breeds are aware of significant changes to their evaluations, such as base adjustments. As of now, changes to the factors will be reported on the BIF website (www.beefimprovement.org); for instance, we are working to update information for the marbling adjustment factor in Brahman. — BIF

Hidden revolution in beef genetics

Genetic evaluation accuracy leaps ahead.

Wes Ishmael | Jan 02, 2019

“Before, as a commercial bull buyer, you ran the risk of making incorrect bull-buying decisions if you weren’t using EPDs. That risk is now significantly greater,” says Matt Spangler, beef genetics specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Ignoring EPDs comes with more risk because EPDs are significantly more accurate than they were 12 to 18 months ago, due to a new way of calculating them.

In simple, incomplete terms, the breeds most used by commercial cattle producers adopted something termed “single step.” It’s a new way of calculating genomic-enhanced EPDs (GE-EDPs), in which pedigree, genotype, phenotypic information and progeny performance are incorporated into the calculation at the same time.

Before, GE-EPDs were created by incorporating genomic data with previously calculated EPDs. Before, GE-EPDs were available only for animals that were genotyped. Given the new way genomic information is included in EPDs (single step), the genotyped animals and their relatives benefit from genomic data.

GE-EPDs, compared to the EPDs of yore, provide a level of prediction accuracy for a nonparent animal that is on par with already knowing the performance of 10 to 20 progeny, depending on the trait in question.

So, the transition to single step increases the accuracy of these GE-EPDs, and the genomic information flows throughout the pedigree, affecting relatives of the genotyped animal as well.

That’s not to say EPDs were inaccurate before. Rather, the advanced methodology provides even greater levels of accuracy.

“We’ve seen the most substantive change to beef cattle evaluation that we’ve seen in decades,” Spangler says. In fact, he likens it to the sea change in genetic evaluation that occurred when EPDs first got their footing in the mid- to late 1980s.

Shifting to single step required new software, lots more computing power and an untold number of changes to how breeds deal with data. Along the way, Spangler explains, breeds took advantage of the transition to update heritability estimates, adjust how they account for selection bias and model particular traits, among other things. These tweaks also added to increased prediction accuracy.

New genetic evaluation’s effects
At the bottom line, EPDs calculated via single step are more accurate. More visible is the fact that the numbers will change more frequently.

With single step, most breed associations conduct genetic evaluation at least weekly, as opposed to a couple of times each year. Although animal rankings are unlikely to change, the raw numbers do.

“Users need to get comfortable with the idea that the EPDs will change more frequently,” Spangler says. He likens it to getting a weather forecast every week, rather than once or twice each year.

As well, the numeric accuracy associated with individual EPDs declined for breeds using BOLT (biometric open language tools) software, according to Jared Decker, Extension beef genetics specialist at the University of Missouri. He explains the EPDs themselves are more accurate, but the ability to measure numeric accuracy directly, rather than approximating it, means lower numeric values.

Breeds using BOLT include Hereford and those that are part of International Genetic Solutions. Moreover, Decker explains some breeds added or revamped selection indexes during the transition to single step.“I continue to point commercial producers toward economic selection indexes that provide a single number to focus on the most important trait, which is profitability,” Decker says.