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The early June trip to the BIF Symposium is one I always look forward to. This year, New Mexico State University hosted the event on campus in Las Cruces. BIF is a unique gathering of producers, academics, and industry leaders all with the goal of genetic improvement in the beef cattle industry. With three days of educational seminars, one can learn a lot. The hallway chats and social time can also provide as much (if not more knowledge) to anyone in attendance. If you’re serious about the future of beef cattle genetic advancement, it’s an event worth going to.


There were several presentations that I found informative this year, but I want to touch on the highlights of some of those speakers that are good take home messages and talking points.


1. Crossbreeding is still being preached, yet not as often practiced. New Mexico State’s Beef Extension team conducted a survey of bull buyers in their state, wanting to know more about their habits and purchasing decisions. Only 22% of producers said that they used crossbreeding systems in their operations. In another presentation, Bob Prosser of Bar T Bar Ranch stated that the most important range management tool he had at his disposal was heterosis.


Crossbreeding still matters as much, if not more, than it ever has in the beef business. To get the cattle to do what we expect them to do, most of us will have to utilize a crossbred animal at some point of our operation (or help our customers do so). Dr. Jennifer Bormann from Kansas State University said it best when she drove home the point that we can’t crossbreed our way from bad cattle to good cattle. The best-planned system in the world won’t provide what you’re looking for if the cattle used in it aren’t up to par.


2. Tony Clayton, a leader in the animal export business here in the United States, made the statement that other countries (especially developing nations) expect that using American genetics will give them “everything they need” in one generation. That’s a gentle reminder of the leadership role that America holds in the world of cattle breeding. While we know it takes generations of constant improvement to get where we want to be, we must keep moving forward to help those that rely on American genetics to improve their national cow herds.


3. With my work in post-sale analytics, the New Mexico State extension survey of bull buyers was particularly intriguing. On an individual bull selection basis, the same traits jumped out of their study as I’ve seen across breeders’ reports the past year (phenotype, calving ease, and growth EPDs). It was the “bigger picture” items that carried the most impact. Half the bulls bought by respondents were Angus bulls, while no other breed made up more than 10 percent. When asked what the limitation was for not incorporating new breeds into the operation, the top response was TRADITION.


To me, this is a prime example of what makes our industry so special, but also how we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. The primary reason I raise Hereford cattle is that the Hereford cow carried our family farm for five generations, and I don’t have any plans to abandon my herd for a completely crossbred cow base. I believe in the cattle and their value, and instead I choose to focus on making my Herefords a better option for all the commercial producers in Iowa with black cows that keep replacement females. It’s difficult to justify not capitalizing on some form of heterosis in a commercial setting, but even harder to justify it when the reasoning is “because nobody before me did”.


It was a great trip to Las Cruces for this year’s event, and I enjoy being a part of the leadership of this group by serving on the Board of Directors. Hope to see some of you next year in Calgary, Alberta for the 2023 Symposium!

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As one season sends, the next one begins! Sales season is ending just in time to begin spring breeding season. There are plenty of moving parts to the puzzle that is breeding season. You likely had to procure a new herd sire for the program during sale season. Then comes the decisions about which bulls to use in an AI program. After that, getting your matings planned and pasture groups figured out for cleanup sires. That doesn’t even begin to get into the toughest part of breeding season: the scheduling! If you AI, coordinating synch protocols with life and labor schedules can be exhausting.

While we probably can’t be much help on figuring out your calendar for getting your cows bred, we can help with some of the upfront work that goes into getting ready for breeding season. Here are a few options that we offer:


- Cow Herd EPD Reports: We will take the time to look at the paperwork of your cow herd and analyze them for both genetic strengths and areas of improvement. Whether it’s by cow age, sire groups, pasture groups, or some other combination that might be beneficial to you, we will study your cows and give you information in a summarized, user-friendly format.


- AI Sire Recommendations: If you’re still not sure which sires on the market are the best fit to improve your 2023 calf crop, let’s have a conversation to determine your goals for breeding season and things you need in a herd sire. Then, we will go to work to build a list of recommended options that meets your needs and can add value to your calf crop. This option works even better if we’ve already done an EPD analysis of your cows to give us a better picture of your operation to give us more working information! 😉


- Mating Planning: If you’re unsure which cows to turn out with a certain bull, or haven’t finalized your matings for AI yet, let us put our personalized mating calculator to work in your operation. This calculator, that we lovingly call SireSort, allows you as a breeder to place emphasis on which EPDs are the most important to your breeding program, then scores potential breedings based on where in the breed that potential cross would rank for your traits of choice. The scores are reported back to you as a simple, singular number along with bull recommendations.


Studying cattle breeding and mating planning is one of my most favorite parts of being in this industry, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s why I developed these options and services to help seedstock producers who don’t enjoy this side of the business quite as much. With every customer, I study, plan, and make recommendations as if their cows were my own. If your cattle aren’t improving with each calf crop, then I’m not doing my job well enough.


If you want our services to go to work for you this breeding season, it’s not too late! Give me a call or an email today to discuss how we can be a benefit to your operation.


-Matt

731-694-6469

mrwcattle@gmail.com


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While calves are hitting the ground here, my mind is already on to the 2023 calf crop and the upcoming breeding season. I’m a firm believer in balanced selection when it comes to data and EPDs, and I don’t normally chase extremes for traits. I like to study my entire group of females, identify where the strengths and weaknesses are, and select either a herd bull or AI sire that best complements those females. While staying out of the ditch for any trait is important, emphasizing everything on the paper isn’t realistic (and contradicts the definition of emphasis). Here are four EPDs that I like to keep at the top of the list when planning our breeding decisions.


- Calving Ease Direct: Whether it’s cows or heifers, I want calves to be born unassisted (as we all do). Knowing that many commercial producers don’t monitor calving time near as closely as we might at our place, calving ease stays important in our herd to keep the customer from having a bad experience with a bull from our operation.

- Weaning weight: With so many commercial producers loading up calves at weaning and taking them to the sale barn, it’s important to bring in bulls that their calves grow early.

- Maternal Index: Personally, and professionally, I’ve dealt with all the British breeds in a heavy capacity. These cattle are meant to make momma cows that work. Most breeds have a selection index that is maternally oriented in their arsenal. In the breeds we work with, it’s our primary focus over other carcass-driven indexes. The maternal component is too vital for us to not heavily consider it when making our next generation.

- Whatever my cows tell me: When studying our females’ genetic predictors, there’s always going to be something that doesn't quite measure up and can be improved. With the Hereford herd, Marbling is currently lower than we would like and is an EPD we’re looking at a bit harder with bull selection for the 2023 crop. We won’t take it to the level of Wagyu-type super prime, but a little improvement would certainly bring more commercial value to our Hereford genetics.


Like I said earlier, I don’t believe that chasing any of these numbers to extremes is the right move. We certainly don’t want extreme growth genetics or extreme marbling or extreme anything in our cow herd. There are too many unintended consequences of chasing any trait/number to the extreme for that philosophy to work efficiently here.


How about you? What are some of the EPDs of importance in your breeding program?

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