Breeding seedstock provides genetic leadership to the industry, but it comes with some responsibility. Temptations are plentiful; so it’s good to frequently remind ourselves of the needs and expectations of commercial cattlemen and focus on those traits. Here are some temptations to be wary of:
1. Single-Trait Selection. Years ago when the seedstock business was in a frame race, the frame advocates justified their selection because the seedstock industry needed to run ahead of the commercial industry to provide change. But why did the elephant chasers provide such leadership only in a single trait? For instance, if the industry needed Choice, YG 2 cattle, why weren’t their cattle capable of producing Prime YG 1’s? Why weren’t their cattle more fertile, faster growing, etc., etc., than the industry norm. Now that would have been leadership!
Profitability lies in the middle of the road in a lot of traits. Cows that reproduce annually, are trouble-free, wean a good calf, produce steers that gain in the feedyard, carcasses that can garner grid premiums and avoid the discounts. Concentrate on the total package.
2. Making Excuses. We all remember what she looked like as a heifer; the kids had her at the county fair and the judge loved her. But weaning three calves in seven years, that’s not too much to ask of a good cow, is it? He was a bit heavy at birth, but dang he looks good at weaning…let’s put him in the bull pen.
Commercial beef production is challenging. Few producers can afford to reproduce your mistakes, so do your part to provide seedstock that will keep them in business. Cull critically, especially in fertility.
3. Providing an Artifical Environment. Successful merchandising requires that you develop bulls and heifers that you intend to sell. When the temptation spills over to the cowherd it can lead to trouble. Take a look at your commercial customers. How do they manage their cowherd? Your herd should be well managed but not to the point of getting too far out in front of your customers. I can cite more than one example of seedstock producers who have a reputation for over feeding their cowherd…coincidentally, they have also gained the reputation that their cattle are ‘hard-doing;’ hmmm, I wonder why?
4. Follow the Same Old Selection Program. When I was in graduate school we visited a western South Dakota seedstock breeder who told us that he always sold his very top performing heifers rather than keep and breed them; I thought he was insane.
Then another producer told me about a visit he made several years ago to a reputation Hereford breeder and was impressed with the uniformity of the cowherd. He asked the breeder how he accomplished that; the breeder responded that he selected his replacements out of the middle of the heifer crop. I’ve come to appreciate that.
Certainly not all, but many seedstock herds have adequate growth in their herd. Those breeders have the luxury of not following the traditional selection scheme and focus on other traits. EPDs are a great tool to keep things balanced or they can be misused to chase and maximize a trait. Become a student of the antagonisms that occur between traits. Seek the middle of the road.
One last story. A breeder who was involved in the early days of another continental breed shared this story with me. As things started to cool in that market, one of the disenchanted investor-type breeders joked, “I’d just make them into commercial cows if they were good enough.” Something to ponder.
Wayne Vanderwert is executive director of the American Gelbvieh Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .