Back in the day, when the cash market dominated the packer-feeder buying relationship, a packer buyer never perched a boot on a feedbunk, cast a critical eye on a pen of cattle, pulled the cigar from his mouth and said, “These cattle need to be fed another 30 days so they'll be a month older.”
“He said that,” says Wayne Vanderwert, “because he wanted them 30 days fatter.”
Nowadays, there are a good many alternatives to the cash market when it comes to selling fed cattle. But things aren't completely different — regardless of the marketing vehicle a feedyard uses, it is still feeding cattle to hit a fat endpoint.
And that, says Vanderwert, executive director of the American Gelbvieh Association (AGA) in Denver, is the philosophy behind some radical changes that appeared in the breed's Fall 2007 Sire Summary.
Since the beginning, at least as far as using EPDs to calculate a bull's potential is concerned, carcass EPDs have been calculated on an animal age-adjusted endpoint, Vanderwert says. Several years ago, as the Gelbvieh breed cast a critical eye on its Sire Summary and asked itself if their breed EPDs were truly serving the industry, they decided to look at the possibility of developing a carcass EPD that more accurately reflects what really happens in a feedyard, a packing plant and ultimately a consumer's dinner plate.
“We're trying to discover the genetics in the Gelbvieh breed and our Balancer® hybrid program that will give us marbling to grade Choice and still have very desirable yield grades,” Vanderwert says. “That was our philosophical driving force in doing this.”
AGA worked with researchers at Colorado State University (CSU) to test its new idea. Complicating the process was the breed's addition of ultrasound data into its carcass EPD calculations. While incorporating ultrasound data isn't a new idea — Vanderwert says other breeds already use that in their EPDs — it still required research to make sure their EPD calculations were truly right.
“This isn't something you can do overnight,” Vanderwert says. “CSU did several runs for us and we had to look at where our heritabilities lined up and a lot of other things. We spent the last couple of years reviewing several different runs to make sure it made sense before we rolled these out.”
Now that they're rolling, Vanderwert says indications are that their model is working. “If you look at our old EPDs, we had Bull A that was a little higher in marbling than Bull B, but he also had a little higher fat thickness EPD than Bull B. In fact, those two sires might be equal in their marbling ability.”
That difference narrows when you calculate EPDs at a fat endpoint rather than a day-adjusted endpoint. The Gelbvieh breed uses Angus sires in its Balancer program, sires that are chosen for their strong carcass traits. When those EPDs are recalculated to a fat-endpoint basis, they're still better than Gelbvieh, as you'd expect, but they're not substantially higher.
That's because they're fat-adjusted. While Angus cattle marble better than Gelbvieh, they're also a little fatter. When adjusted to the same endpoint, however, the fat differences go away.
AGA is adding a new EPD to its lineup — Days to Finish (DtF) will replace the fat thickness EPD, says Susan Willmon, director of breed improvement. With rising feed costs, animals that can reach the finish endpoint sooner translate into reduced feed costs and less total expense per animal.
Because the EPDs just came out a couple of months ago, reaction to the change from commercial cow-calf producers is still a ways down the road, Vanderwert says. However, he says reaction within the Gelbvieh breed has been favorable.
The EPD changes are the first part of a breed-improvement educational program that will continue through this fall and be a topic at their meetings during the National Western Stock Show in January.
“Our agenda is basically going to be on breed direction, not only for carcass traits but for production traits — birth weight and yearling weight and milk EPD relative to the environment in which you produce cattle,” he says. “We're going to help breeders target EPDs in several traits, carcass included.”
The Fall 2007 Gelbvieh Sire Summary is available at www.gelbvieh.org.