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Herd about genetics?
Rebecca Befort

“Some folks just don’t get it. They think owning cattle makes no sense. It takes too much time, too much equipment, not to mention the expense. But the fondest memories of my life, they might sound funny, were made possible by mom and dad, ‘cause they spent the time and they spent the money. You see, the most important lessons helping values grow so strong, come from loving cattle and passing the tradition on.” -The Tradition, Hueber Show Feed

In the beef industry, cattle men and women are looking for that near perfect look of the animal that will either bring the high dollar in a sale or bring the best carcass on the rail. With the ever evolving and changing demand for cattle, it is hard to keep up with the trends of what people want, whether selling at the sale barn or to other producers.

Coming from a farm with a cow-calf herd, and my own small show cattle herd, genetics plays a big part in selecting what bulls and cows to use to get the best offspring. Knowing what people want to buy for both the commercial side and the show side has really helped me to improve my herd as I raise Shorthorn, Chianina, and Maine-Anjou as show cattle.

Within the beef industry, you have the ranchers who just ranch, the ranchers who breed and sell to other producers, and the ranchers who exhibit their cattle at shows. In all of these, producers look for many of the same traits, but the show world is a combination of soundness, volume, muscle, and balance. All these traits are carefully selected for at breeding time. Which cow and bull being used will give the outcome wanted? 

There is often strong similarity of the offspring to the parents and the ancestors, but there is no guarantee of the similarities due to laws of inheritance. “Full siblings contain 50 percent of the same DNA but can vary from 25 to 75 percent because of chromosome inheritance and recombination. That means full siblings can have vastly different phenotypes.” says Dave Allen, a Purina Honor Show Ambassador from Texas.

The show world does pay more attention to traits than the normal commercial producer since that is their livelihood. They focus on bone mass, structure, muscle, width of back, etc. Steers lean more towards muscle, width, and mass. In heifers, we also select for fertility by looking at their udders and feet, which are all key components for longevity outside of the showring. 

When it comes to the commercial side of the industry, many of the traits selected for are the same in females and males. Much of the commercial side of the industry does not look at all the traits as closely unless they are a producer that has big sales a few times a year. New technology is being developed all the time to help producers select the best traits for their herd to help them be profitable. 

The Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) was established in 1968 and has long encouraged performance testing and genetic improvement of beef cattle. The new guidelines under BIF’s new program was divided into three sections: 1) Data Collection and Processing, 2) Genetic Evaluation, and 3) Selection and Marketing. This program is there for seedstock and commercial producers to use when trying to decide which cattle to buy and add to their herd to improve the success of their operation. 

Most producers are looking for cattle based on the market and personal preferences. There are two main types of selection: individual or mass selection. From there, it goes into more detailed categories such as, within and between family selection, sibling selection, and progeny testing. Mass selection uses records of only the candidates available and is the most effective when heritability is high and the trait in early life is expressed. 

Some producers have personal preferences when it comes to selecting cattle. Some like the moderate to smaller frames as they do not take as much to feed them, and then some like bigger framed cattle. Some people like more muscle and a stocky build, and some favor a leaner look. 

The Angus Association has a program that reports the whole-herd calving, including the ones that do not have a calf so they can keep track of which cattle make good breeders and which do not. There are a lot of traits to look for as you develop your cattle. First is to decide if you want a certain breed. Each breed has different traits that they have been developed for and traits that are harder for them to take on.

Some cows have better longevity, femininity, udder placement, milk ability, etc.

When it comes to selecting bulls, most farmers and ranchers want calving ease bulls. In the case of bulls, more people pay attention to EPDs more than when selecting cows. Both genotype and phenotype go hand in hand when selecting bulls as you want them to look masculine and be able to breed and put live babies on the ground that will not be too big for the cow. 

Birth weight, weaning weight, and yearling weight are important numbers to pay attention to. Longevity plays a big role in whether a cow is culled, or a bull is sold. Each must be able to produce enough progeny to make enough money for the producer to stay in business. The main goal is to be able to produce cattle that have good carcass quality and can produce the beef needed.

Many things come into choosing a good breeding bull and replacement heifer to replace culled cattle. Whether you are in the show industry or commercial, they are more similar than many want to admit. In the end, we all have the same goal and that is to produce the best cattle and beef that we can.

Rebecca Befort, a 2014 Thomas More Prep-Marian High school graduate, graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science from Fort Hays State University. She is the daughter of Steve and Christy Befort, La Crosse.