It’s been seen time and again. Cattle with the same genetics—the same strong EPDs (expected progeny differences)—performing well for one ranch, while performing off the charts for another.

What’s the difference?

The answer could lie in a combination of factors, primarily the joining of strong genetics with the nutrition of the herd. Yes, each is important. But the combination of both can help your clients increase returns, benefiting you both in the long run.

What can you, as a beef practitioner, do to help educate your clients on the importance of strong genetic selection and proper nutrition? It all comes down to an understanding and appreciation of each aspect in the equation.

N.T. Cosby, PhD, Purina Animal Nutrition Beef Cattle Nutritionist, says a strong nutrition program can drive performance in any cow herd.

“In herds that are attempting to optimize performance, nutrition is key,” he says. “It’s key to being able to achieve their performance goals and to continue to measure improvements in their genetic selections.”

Matt Spangler, PhD, University of Nebraska Associate Professor and Extension Beef Genetics Specialist, agrees that a strong nutrition program can increase the potential of any cow herd.

“Adequate nutrition allows animals to display their greatest potential,” he says. “Genetic potential and nutrition are additive, in the sense that if we’re able to provide nutritional benefits above and beyond what’s required for maintenance, and if the animals have the genetic potential to perform, we’ll be able to see the differences in phenotypic performance.”

Choosing genetics based on their environment can also help a producer get the most return for their investment.

Consider The Environment

We can’t predict the weather. But during years of drought, like last year, or in naturally dry locations with poorer grasses, a strong, well-thought-out nutrition program is even more essential for the brood cow.

“It’s important to keep the brood cow herd on a consistent plane of nutrition,” Cosby says. “If it’s a bred cow, she’s taking care of two calves. One by her side, and one gestating. We’ve found out that how we treat those cows during gestation can affect the progeny’s potential, both positively or negatively.”


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When this well planned nutrition program allows the cow herd to maintain a consistent body score between 5 and 6, and when this program is combined with strong genetic selection, performance increases manifest into increased profit.

“We can see dramatic, positive effects on progeny in this situation,” Cosby says. “With high performance genetics in place and excellent treatment of the dams before calving, a producer will see great results.”

But what exactly are those high performance genetics? And what should a cattleman focus on the most?