Reading the September issue article, “The Lowdown On Lowlines”, I was reminded of the late, great Fred Johnson, who I met a decade ago as a 20-year-old kid before one of his bull sales in Broken Bow, NE. “What's the most important part of a pedigree?” he asked me upon meeting him.
I stuttered and stammered trying to come up with an answer to impress the man, only to confess in the end that I didn't know. “It's the name at the top,” Fred said, “because if you can't trust that, you can't trust a darn number that's printed after it. Always remember, son, figures can lie and liars can figure, so know your facts.”
Coming from the Midwest, I fully understand there are environments vastly different than my own. I also understand the genetics that excel in these environments might also be vastly different than our own. What surprised me on the Lowlines article were the numbers showing those cows eating in straight proportion to their body weight, and requiring only two-thirds of the protein of their counterparts that are 250 lbs. larger.
Don't misunderstand me. I agree some cows have gotten too big, but my concern is that we will try to push them too small. In my region I see the adoption of genetics developed for more adverse environments, and the driver seems to be seedstock producers promising their customers ever-increasing savings in their cow costs. While lowering cow cost is a worthwhile undertaking, we must ask ourselves, is the goal to have the lowest cost, or to create a product of the highest value?
Johnson seemed to favor value and, based on that, envisioned a program called Certified Angus Beef® that would not only create value for the seedstock producer who sold Angus bulls, but for the commercial cattlemen who bought them and sold their progeny. It did this by creating value for the feedlot that fed them, the packer that harvested them, and the consumer who bought the product. Look at the growth the Angus breed experienced over the last 25 years from a vision like that and how applicable it is to all of our pursuits.
We use names like “maternal” and “terminal” to describe lines of cattle. The first can generally be related to cost, the second to output, but neither wholly relates to value. In fact, maternal can be terminal if in the pursuit of it we lose focus on those who buy our product — the feeder, the packer and the consumer.
Today, there are entire programs built around “low-cost cows,” with no mention of calf performance. If I'm a feeder, what value would I place on these genetics? For a commercial producer with a 100-head herd, how does lowering the cost on the 15-20 replacements I hold back affect the value of the 70-75 head I pass on down the line?
Is pursuing “low cost” above all really that much different than pursuing performance at all costs? Isn't “optimal” ultimately determined by value? And isn't this part of Fred Johnson's great legacy?
Dan Hanrahan and his wife Erin work on his father-in-law Jim Bradford's Angus operation in Guthrie Center, IA.
Range Beef Cow Symposium XXI
More than 30 speakers will address beef production topics during the XXI Range Beef Cow Symposium (RBCS) Dec. 1-3 in the Casper, WY Events Center.
Initiated in 1969, the RBCS is held every other year and is organized by animal science departments of Colorado State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, South Dakota State University and the University of Wyoming. The event rotates between the four states.
This year's event features nine sessions over its three-day run. These include: industry issues, developing and managing beef females, selecting the “right” genetics with the future in mind, outlook for beef demand, enhancing selection decisions, range-management monitoring, adding value to the calf crop, management and nutrition, and an economic outlook.
More information on the program is available at www.rangebeefcow.com.