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MRW Memo, June 2022: Highlights of the BIF Symposium

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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