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?

Genetic evaluations have been moving in-house, and breed associations have begun to run their genetic evaluations concurrently. This not only allows them to take advantage of economies of scale, but supplement the power of their individual evaluations and allow them to produce numbers that are every bit as accurate for composite animals as purebred lines.

Throw in DNA and new traits like feed efficiency and the dynamics change even more. No longer are the technologies equally available to everyone; the data are proprietary and concentrated.

Will we return to the model of the past where breed associations are the primary social clubs? Will there be one or two entities that produce the genetic evaluation for everyone, greatly improving the accuracy of the genetic values that producers use?  Are we migrating toward the models we’ve seen develop in the pork, chicken or dairy industries?

Like the smaller issue we began this discussion with, it depends. I’m a traditionalist, so I see value in the current structures and feel most comfortable operating under those paradigms. But I hope I’m also a realist. The game is changing, and it evolved in other directions for the other protein industries because it made sense both scientifically and economically. Those other industries were simply searching for the best business models; in the beef industry, it is more like a family operation looking for success and happy holiday gatherings as well.

Even the structure of the seedstock business is in question. A small to mid-size breeder always had the same opportunities as the larger breeder, and the same access to genetics and information. It’s true that the larger producers always had population genetics on their side, but it still was as egalitarian of a system as one could make in a free-market scenario.

We’re now entering into the age of proprietary genetics and information. For example, breeders who first adopted artificial insemination, performance testing, EPDs and ultrasound, were able to create a big lead on their competitors. They dominated for a while, but the masses eventually leveraged their data and size, and erased the lead. There is real doubt if that model will exist with traits like feed efficiency and DNA. We’re moving from an open book to a black box approach.

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The biggest lesson from the moves within AAA is that membership must be ever-vigilant. The industry’s checkoff nearly imploded under a similar scenario a couple of years ago. And the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has yet to recover from the divide created by R-CALF. History tells us everyone would have been better served to avoid the division and years of infighting. A house divided will not stand.

That brings up another dynamic in the seedstock industry that everyone hates to talk about, because it is politically sensitive.  And that is that the smaller breeder has to carve out an incredible niche, or do a tremendous job of lowering costs, to be competitive.

The large seedstock entities are gaining ground on the three most important fronts – genetic selection capabilities, marketing and customer service. While the majority of seedstock producers are relatively small from a size standpoint, they constitute the majority in number of producers and even cows. However, this majority is a minority when it comes to contributing to a national genetic evaluation program and marketing might.

I still believe that on 98% of the issues, seedstock producers are in agreement. But as the R-CALF/NCBA split clearly shows, that is not necessarily enough to keep everyone under the same tent. Recent events at AAA probably reflect these dynamics and the changes that are occurring in the industry. The challenge for strong, consensus-building leadership with a clear vision will be great.


The views of Troy Marshall do not necessarily reflect those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.    


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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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