Matt Spangler, professor and Extension beef genetics specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, tells bull buyers to pay attention to the details when deciding to invest in a bull. (Courtesy photo.)

Finding a way to meet your beef production needs means paying attention to many details.

In looking at cow size in the past 20 years, producers have selected to increase revenue (output) without consideration of input (cost), according to Matt Spangler, a professor and Extension beef genetics specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Spangler works with colleagues at UNL and with the United States Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, to improve genetic/genomic selection tools and methods.

“Selection for increased growth (weaning weight, yearling weight, carcass weight) has led to correlated response in the mature cow weight. This trend goes further back than 20 years,” Spangler said. “The use of economic indices, when available, can help to achieve increased net profit by selecting on multiple traits at the same time in an economic framework. Producers need to understand what trait maximums (or minimums) are rarely economically desirable.”

One observation he sees in Nebraska is that cow size can vary depending on topography. Spangler said he recognizes on an anecdotal basis the need for smaller cows in western Nebraska when compared to the eastern part of the Cornhusker State.

Spangler grew upon a diversified crop and livestock farm in Kansas. He has a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University, his master’s degree from Iowa State University and his doctorate degree from the University of Georgia.

He noted that modern cow size has an impact on mature size and weight of the steer offspring.

Weight traits are correlated, such that increasing weight at one stage of life results in an increase in weight at another stage of life, Spangler said. Research suggests that mature cow weight and carcass weight are moderately to highly genetically related. However, increases in steer carcass weight can be obtained without increasing cow size.

“If cows were selected for maternal traits, like fertility, moderate size and optimal milk, and bulls were selected for growth and carcass merit then the resulting offspring could achieve large carcass weights without the need for large cows,” he said. “This requires using crossbred cows selected for maternal traits and mating them to bulls selected for terminal traits; taking advantage of breed strengths and heterosis.”

There are examples within academia and the industry where this is occurring, Spangler said. “The take home message is that you do not need big cows to make big steers if your program is well designed.”

One aspect a producer needs to take into account is how the bull will be delivered and how far he or she is willing to travel to find desired genetics.

“This obviously depends on the region, as some states are densely populated with seedstock producers,” Spangler said. “The key is to know what you need, understand what you can spend and to buy from a supplier that you trust.”

Once the bull has arrived in his new home he can get accustomed to his new surroundings quicker if common sense is applied, he said. “Bulls are not pets. Don’t put them in a small area where they are isolated and expect them to respond well.”

Producers also need to be concerned about milk production especially in limited feed environments, he said.

“Cows with increased lactation potential can also have problems re-breeding when feed is limited,” Spangler said.

The bull buyer needs to pay attention to the milk expected progeny difference measurement of the bull.

“Remember that more is not always better,” the beef genetics specialist said.   u

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or

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