Journal photo by Jennifer Theurer.

Livestock producers work toward the same goal as everyone else—to get paid for the time and effort they devote to their livelihood.

Many commercial cattlemen build a reputation at the sale barn over years and years. The buyers know them when they walk in and their name is announced when their cattle enter the ring. Their calves are of uniform size and finish. The bidders know these cattle will perform once they head for greener pastures or, possibly, a feedlot pen.

What if you didn’t need to be in the cattle business for years and years to have that kind of knowledge? Would it be worth it to earn that same confidence in months rather than years?

Kent Andersen, director of Genetics Technical Services, U.S. Cattle-Equine, Zoetis, says that genetically testing a cow will automatically give a producer information that would normally require as much as 20 offspring to achieve. To lend perspective, a cow will produce 10 calves in her lifetime, if she’s lucky.

“If you test the female you would get more accurate expected progeny differences then you would get from a lifetime of her producing natural calves,” Andersen said.

This information can inform breeding decisions when it pertains to that cow and her progeny. It can influence which heifers are retained, which ones are culled and, if artificial insemination is used, it can help a producer make smarter breeding decisions.

Smarter breeding decisions can save time and money. Poor mating decisions in cattle can take years to correct through traditional methods. DNA testing reduces the likelihood of those decisions costing years of quality production. 

Spending money to make money

Quality production comes in the form of calving ease, weaning weight and carcass merit in the beef industry. Few buyers can tell how well a cow will raise a calf based on the amount of time she stood in the sale ring.

“Everybody will be doing some more genomic testing than they probably think they will,” Eldon Cole, University of Missouri field specialist for livestock, said. “May not like it at first but it’s a tool that they will have that they should give some attention to.”

Cole says commercial cattlemen can’t expect to earn more money at the sale barn while only offering a visual appraisal of their stock and no data from the feedlot or DNA testing.

“As Extension folks, we encourage the use of the genomics (DNA testing) on saving your replacement heifers,” he said, pointing out that the genetic information from heifers can be transferred to their steer herd mates.

Cole contends that “if you can add maybe two, three, four dollars a hundred to those steer mates when you sell them” that will relieve the pinch in your pocketbook when paying for testing.

Back to that sale barn

Those well-known producers were early students of expected progeny differences in the 1990s and they have used them to the advantage of their herd and to the benefit of their bottom line.

Many of the tests currently on the market were developed for cattle with a high percentage of Angus genetics. Andersen is quick to point out that most of the breed associations offer some type of genomic enhanced genetic evaluation. Every day the industry moves closer to being more inclusive.

“I’d say there’s a race going toward the new frontier from being able to test animals of unknown breed composition,” Andersen said. “We’re not there yet but I think that’s kind of where we’re headed.”

Jennifer Theurer can be reached at 620-227-1858 or

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