Select for profit
By Miranda Reiman
To make more money, try selecting for profit. That's what dollar-value indexes help cattle producers do.
"It's probably the easiest way to practice multiple-trait selection," says Megan Rolf, Oklahoma State University animal scientist. "It's also a pretty easy way to select for profit, because we're talking in terms of economic values, so they either have profit or savings associated with them."
Commercial cattlemen who want to produce standouts in the feedlot and on the rail should look to the dollar-beef ($B) index, offered by the American Angus Association.
"It's designed to aid in genetic decisions for post-weaning merit and carcass value," says Sally Northcutt, genetic research director for the Association.
An updated technical summary shows the dramatic difference in progeny harvested 1997 through 2012, sired by bulls in the top 10 percent compared to the bottom tenth among registered Angus sires (see table).
"Selection of breeding stock based on a single trait is risky, as progress may come at the expense of others," the Certified Angus Beef LLC "Black Ink Basics" tech sheet says. "Using the breed's top 10 percent of beef-value sires can produce calve with higher quality premiums, lower yield-grade discounts and better feedlot performance."
It shows data to back that claim: Progeny from high $B sires had five times more Prime grading carcasses, while Standard carcasses were cut by almost two-thirds, compared to low $B progeny. Certified Angus Beef brand qualifiers increased more than 28 percentage points.
"People will ask the question," Northcutt says, "can I really realize this difference in the feedlot and on the rail?" The top-vs.-bottom 10 percent comparison illustrates what's possible.
Quality grade is not the only place the top group won out. High $B progeny had a 67-pound carcass weight advantage over low $B calves. Coupled with the grid premiums, that adds up to a $168.02 per-head advantage for the top group.
"The underlying economic assumptions are based on a three-year rolling average that represents the commercial cattle industry," Northcutt says.
Improvements in Angus genetics, along with stronger grid signals, contributed to an $85-increase in the spread between the two groups, compared to a previous analysis in 2006.
"Quality has value in the industry and pounds have value," Northcutt says.
In order to use an index properly, it's important to know which traits are included, Rolf says.
"You want to select for the highest index values and limit the use of additional EPDs (expected progeny differences)," she says. "Otherwise if you're using something like dollar-beef that already includes yearling weight and you also select for a higher yearling weight EPD, you place too much emphasis on yearling weight.
The exceptions are EPDs that could help you set needed limits for environment or ones that are not included in the index. For example, maternal traits should be included in selection decisions if replacement heifers are being kept, because having females that produce live calves and breed back needs to be a key consideration of any ranch.
"The dollar-beef index does not have any maternal components or calving ease," Northcutt notes, recommending the dollar-weaning ($W) calculation as the "best kept secret for all producers."
That includes traits like mature size and milk, calving ease and a cow's energy requirements. The tech summary notes the higher $B sires also had improved $W values, showing that both goals can be reached in tandem, she says.
"But dollar-beef isn't just for those producers focused on retaining ownership. Those who sell at weaning still need to keep it in mind for the big picture of the industry," Northcutt says.
She recommends Angus bull buyers visit the Sire Selector on the Angus website (http://www.angus.org/Nce/SireSummarySearchCriteria.aspx) to search for animals that fit their criteria. It allows producers to enter minimum and maximum values for all 24 measured EPDs and dollar-value indexes.
"If you've already used registered Angus bulls on your cows, then you can use their EPDs as a benchmark of genetic values. You can use them as a conservative starting point," Northcutt says. "The hardest part is to sit down at the kitchen table and think about the goals and opportunities you'd like to seek out. What's the directional change I want to make?"
For more information or to download the "Selection for $B Makes Cents" tech sheet, visit http://www.cabpartners.com/educators.