My View From The Country

Competing Visions Challenge American Angus Association

Table of Contents:

Do recent moves at the American Angus Association open the door for trends that have been occurring to accelerate?

I’ve never received as many phone calls or emails as I have over the recent events concerning the American Angus Association (AAA). I know it’s certainly been the number-one topic of discussion among purebred breeders regardless of breed. It’s from that perspective that I know everyone is expecting coverage.

Recently, AAA went through some internal turmoil regarding some aspects of the association’s direction, which culminated in a vote of confidence for the executive director by AAA’s board. I understand that a number of AAA employees, including regional managers and key executives, subsequently left AAA’s employ.

It will take some time to fully understand and comprehend what the outcome of the moves within AAA will be. I will admit that I am biased, as I love the Angus breed, have respect for the breeders and the leadership, and have faith that they will overcome any obstacles.

However, I do think this situation merits a look at the industry from a broader perspective. In many respects, AAA has been an industry barometer, so to speak, acting as a sort of standard currency in the business. Like the dollar in world trade, or English as the primary language of business, the Angus EPD system has been the standard for the entire seedstock industry.

Whether or not AAA is ultimately weakened, or evolves into something even stronger, is up for debate, but nobody I know has the answer to that question. The moves do open the door for trends that have been occurring to accelerate, however.

National genetic evaluation programs changed the structure and course of the seedstock industry, as well as the look and shape of breed associations. Breed associations were no longer simply social organizations of likeminded people who loved a certain breed or type of cattle; they now had the tools to help breeders improve their selection decisions.

It’s a model that has served the industry extremely well, and the genetic trend lines are amazing. However, like so many industries, economies of scale and a technology revolution have changed the game. It’s no longer necessary to have huge, centrally located main-frame computers to collect data. Nor is it necessary to centralize the computing power and expertise required to conduct a national genetic evaluation program at a small number of land-grant universities.

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on Apr 18, 2014

"It is dishonest to suggest, or imply, that BLUP (EPD) analysis will allow accurate genetic comparisons of all economically important traits across all environments. A trait such as fertility is determined by hormonal balance (largely unaffected by environment) and body condition (largely a reflection of environmental adaptation). It is therefore subjected to genotype X environment interaction. Animals performing well in one environment may perform poorly in a different environment. This is reflected in fertility. No mathematical model can correct for this in order to allow animals be compared across environments with regard to traits that are subjected to genotype X environment interaction."

Johann Zietsman

From: Man - Cattle - Veld, A Ranching Revolution: To be published later this year.

W.E. (not verified)
on Apr 18, 2014

Commercial bull customers who come to us for breeding stock are looking for good disposition and ease of handling, doing ability on forages, and freedom from genetic defects, none of which are adequately measured with EPD performance and carcass numbers. Add to that list disease resistance, early fertility, mothering ability, udder quality, adaptability, soundness, conformation and a host of other important economic traits not adequately covered by computer records. As purebred breeders worship at their computer screens, trying to impress other breeders, too many fail to look at what works in the real world of the pasture or range where their commercial customers must make a living. Demanding that purebred cattle survive and thrive under the the same (or even tougher) conditions than our customers' cattle must endure serves the customer much better. Instead, too many purebred breeders go to great lengths to make excuses for non-functional cattle with great EPD numbers that look really good with the help of extra feed, skillful clipping, and photoshop-enhanced pictures--and then the animals die young. The best way we have found to produce highly economic and functional cattle that satisfy repeat bull customers is to place early fertility, sire and dam longevity and 365 day calving intervals at the top of the list of traits when we select our replacement herd bulls. Those are traits that can't easily be faked, manipulated, or hyped up on the computer screen or in the show ring.

on Apr 18, 2014

Add to your concerns the litany of breeding stock produced through embryo transplant from females with limited or no progeny and we are right at the stage of believing in a good cow/bull rather than measuring and proving a good cow/bull.

All these things are tools. I have found AI bulls with too high Milk EPD for my environment. So I carefully scale back on that detail. Without EPD's I would have no inkling of this except for the long lived cow. Have I associated the bad outcome with the wrong EPD measurement? Time will tell.

It is human nature to desire the very top performing individual, it is quite true that some seed stock producers have used this to their marketing advantage.

But I think EPD's still have a place in identifying the useful moderate performer as well as the extreme. The producer simply needs to be sensitive to all these aspects at once. And that is the great challenge.

(But actually very little of my response has anything to do with what Troy is hinting about or am I too dense to see the forest for the trees?)

Simangus1 (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2014
Delos Thompson Little Creek Angus (not verified)
on Jun 20, 2014

You are so right and that. is exactly what is at the top of my list when I'm either buyin or selling. Thankyou.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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