Though I enjoy reading about new technologies like gene markers, gene splicing and cloning, I believe improving beef production today involves four simple steps:

  1. Read “The Book” (Sire Summary).

  2. Get your cows bred. Reproduction is still the number-one performance trait.

  3. Give your cattle something to eat. Genetics are worthless if they are unable to express themselves.

  4. Have a herd health program. Work with your veterinarian.

Last month, we discussed the importance of reproduction and the value of EPDs for making genetic improvement. This month, I'll cover points three and four in emphasizing that there is no benefit of better genetics unless cattle are healthy and well-fed.

Give Cattle Something To Eat

In the cattle business, the main focus is harvesting as many pounds of beef as possible, as efficiently as possible while enduring whatever environmental conditions are presented. I deal with many producers who face challenging environmental circumstances; yet they do a great job of providing forage for their cattle.

I also encounter producers who try to “starve a profit” into their operation. In doing this, I contend they essentially “starve” the genetic potential out of their cattle. Common sense tells you “genetics cannot be expressed without something to eat.”

Robert Totusek and his colleagues at Oklahoma State University did one of the classic studies that shows how feeding can affect performance genetics. They compared the milk production of three-year-old Hereford, or Hereford × Holstein (crossbred) cows under two levels (moderate or high) of feed during the winter.

Every 4-H kid knows that the Holstein crosses should produce more milk than the straight Herefords, and they did (Figure 1). When feed was scarce, the Holstein crosses just barely beat the Herefords. But, when feed was plentiful, the Holstein genetics for milk were expressed to the full extent.

This concept will hold true for growth genetics, carcass genetics, whatever genetics. The bottom line for any ranch will be to pick the “right genetics” for the feed resources in order to optimize performance, and, more importantly, to maximize the operation's net income from pounds harvested off the ranch.

Have A Herd Health Program

I like to give veterinarians a hard time because I'm married to one. In addition, my former college roommate, who does our herd health work, is also one.

The reality of any operation that doesn't work with its local veterinarian is that it's not creating a value-added product (i.e., healthy cattle). In fact, it's probably wasting money by not vaccinating for the correct diseases and/or with the correct vaccines.

It's crucial that my vet knows what suits our operation best. I depend on him for recommendations that will maximize the genetic potential of our animals. Those recommendations always fit this general philosophy:

  • Sound nutrition this ensures that a high quality and quantity of colostrum is provided to newborn calves.

  • Appropriate vaccination and biosecurity programs in the cowherd to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks.

  • Common-sense animal husbandry to minimize stress the benefit of weaning and preconditioning calves on the ranch is greater than the risks of weaning after shipping to a feedyard.

Our vet has observed that cattle that have been weaned and vaccinated prior to relocation (feedyard, grass or wheat pasture), encounter very few problems. These are the cattle whose genetic potential is fully maximized.

Providing an environment that's healthy and allows for genetic expression is not only good management but good business.

The information and technology available today allows all producers a better chance at profitability than ever before. However, it's still simple attention to genetics, reproduction, nutrition and herd health that makes an operation successful.

Mark Gardiner is a partner in Gardiner Angus Ranch Inc., and a founding member of U.S. Premium Beef. A fourth-generation family Angus seedstock and commercial Angus cow/calf operation, the Gardiners annually market more than 1,200 Angus bulls. Contact Mark at 620/635-2760, or write: Angus Ranch Inc., RR 1 Box 290, Ashland KS 67831. The headquarters phone is 620/635-2932.