You're a moderate-sized Angus breeder with 150 cows that sells bulls to commercial producers. You know how important expected progeny differences (EPDs) are in the selection process, but they're hard to understand, particularly when you try to factor in a dozen or more EPDs on each sire.

Too often, in trying to find the best sire, producers look at just one or two EPDs - usually growth or marbling. Until now, no one has tried to factor in profitability factors, which after all should be the most important.

Alabama seedstock producer Phil Hammond and his dad Gilbert of Generation Angus, Lexington, AL, may help provide an answer. They joined Angus Sire Alliance, created in 1995 by David Gust, owner of Circle Angus, Iberia, MO.

Gust and his family started Circle A in 1990 with 35 registered cows and 630 acres in central Missouri. Since then, it's grown to four ranches with 6,000 commercial and purebred Angus cows near Iberia, Huntsville and Stockton, MO. A fourth unit near Lineville, IA, is used to grow heifer replacements for Circle A's own herds.

Through one of the most closely monitored progeny testing programs in the country, the Angus Sire Alliance has one aim: to identify efficient young sires that can produce the most profitable offspring.

This is done by ranking sires based not on one or two traits but on a Profitability Index (PI) calculated by combining EPDs on a number of economically important traits.

"This program allows producers to select candidates that maximize profit," explains University of Missouri beef Extension geneticist William Herring.

Since 1996, the alliance has progeny-tested 36 young Angus sires from seedstock producers in 15 states. With a profitability index of $31.84, Generation Band 505, owned by Generation Angus, ranked first among the 17 young sires in the 1997 program ending last September.

This index means that when used in a similar production system described in the economic simulation, the bull would produce progeny that would likely return that much more profit per progeny than the lowest ranking bull.

The PI was developed by Herring, Larry Benyshek of the University of Georgia, economist Vern Pierce and USDA geneticist Mike MacNeil. They used a different approach, a bio-economic simulation that includes 76 production and economic variables to estimate relative economic values (REVs) for birthweight, weaning weight, marbling score, yield grade and fertility.

Then, they added two new computations not used in conventional EPDs: post-weaning daily gain rather than yearling weight EPDs, and daily dry matter intake on individual steer progeny. The latter is a first of its kind.

(Circle A installed a Calan Broadbent Feeding System at their Huntsville ranch in 1998. It electronically measures how much each steer progeny eats per day. (See "Feed Conversion EPDs," page 49).

How The Alliance Works A producer pays an $8,500 membership or transfers 1/2 interest in their sire candidate to cover membership costs. During April, he sends one young sire and 400 straws of semen to the Iberia unit for progeny testing.

Each sire must be from 18 months to three years of age and meet these minimum EPD standards: birth weight - no more than +5; weaning weight minimum of +30; yearling weight minimum of +55; and minimum of +10 on milk.

Circle A gets $3,500 for managing the tests, with the balance ($5,000) going into an interest-bearing account. This pays for a 2/3 interest in the two winning bulls, which in the 1996 program totaled $33,000 for each owner. Each member also receives 30 straws of semen from the winning bulls annually.

The Alliance also gets a percentage of semen sales from ABS Global, DeForest, WI, which leased the top four bulls from the 1996-97 alliances. So far, the company has sold more than 15,000 units of semen from the 1996 winners, JLB Exacto 416 and GDAR SVF Traveler 234D, in the U.S., Australia, Mexico and Canada.

"We're pleased with results so far," ABS beef product manger Doug Frank tells BEEF. "We like a complete progeny test that can inclu de economic weighting of EPDs."

A total of 1,656 steers, born in early spring 1997 and 1998, have gone through the alliance's first two progeny tests. "We have the same management and pasture program at all ranches to form the most accurate contemporary groups recorded," Gust explains.

Each alliance bull is randomly mated by natural service to 50 Circle A commercial females during a 70-day breeding season at one of the three Missouri ranches in a designated progeny testing program. Semen from the bull and reference sires are used to breed another 35 cows at the two other ranches.

Calves are creep fed starting July 1, weaned at about 210 days of age and backgrounded on the same corn silage, ground hay and corn ration for 100 days at all three Missouri units. In January, steers - including progeny from all test sires - are shipped to Platte Valley Feeders, Kearney, NE. At the same time, 96 progeny from other contemporaries go to the Sire Alliance Research Center at Huntsville toested for gain and feed intake.

"We feed all Circle A steers including those in the Sire Alliance program," says Platte Valley manager Greg Adair. "We decide what ration to feed, and move it up as fast as we can to the finishing ration."

All steers get the same finishing ration at both locations until ready for slaughter in May. They weigh about 1,250 lbs. at 14 months of age. The ration includes corn, soy hulls, a fat ingredient, liquid protein and ground alfalfa. At 80 days on feed, certified ultrasound technician Rethel King measures each animal for fat thickness, ribeye area and marbling.

"This gives us an idea when to market at the packing plant," Adair explains. "We have three to four different dates, but each contemporary group is slaug htered together on the same day."

University of Missouri staffers and USDA graders collect carcass data, then pool birth to carcass data from 1996-97 alliance progeny test programs. The next step is to perform a bio-economic simulation using a modified version of Simumate 3.0 to calculate the REV and then the Profitability Index.

The bio-economic model requires a number of assumptions, using 10-year averages on costs and returns. Production cost data comes from the University of Missouri; cull cow prices from USDA Market News Service at Sioux Falls, SD; feeder cattle data from Oklahoma City, OK; feedlot costs from Kansas State University; and carcass prices from the USDA.

From this data, Herring estimates REVs on each variable including birthweight, weaning weight, individual post-weaning daily gain, daily dry matter intake, marbling score, yield grade and female fertility. Final sire differences for profit are estimated by computing the product of sire EPD and REV for each trait put together in an index value.

"We combine all economic values with the EPDs calculated at the University of Missouri and end up with the value in dollar units," says Herring. "We then rescale the index so the lowest bull is zero and the best one - in this case , Generation Band 505 - shows a profit of $31.84."

Herring reports interesting results after evaluating 1,656 progeny steers since the alliance began in 1996:

* From the steers tested at the Sire Alliance Research Center, average on-test weight was 820 lbs.; off-test weights averaged 1,145 lbs. Average daily gain ranged from 2.07 to 4.37 lbs. and feed conversion from 4.3 to 8.9 lbs. dry matter/lb. gain.

"The two top bulls do a number of things quite well," Herring says. "They excelled genetically in a number of areas contributing to profit."

* The top indexing sire had lower birthweight, higher weaning weight and marbling score, but varied little from average in post-weaning gain, yield grade or feed intake.

"The top two sires had exceptional pre-weaning growth genetics, but the last two had very low pre-weaning growth genetics," Herring suggests. "If you're a commercial operator who retains ownership and markets on some sort of grid, these are multiple-trait-selections that make the most money.

The approach appeals to family-owned operations like Generation Angus that sell bulls mainly to commercial producers. "It probably gives them a better look at things because it is telling them what they need to know," says Hammond.

An interesting aspect is how fast Circle A has made genetic change, notes Adair. "Each calf than the ones before."ally better than the ones before."

Alliance results have convinced Gust about the kind of cattle to breed - those that can be slaughtered at 13 months of age weighing about 1,250 lbs.

"Genetically, we can do that," he adds. "You can't put them on grass anymore and market them at 18 months of age and make money. Also, the younger they are the better they taste. Nobody eats a two-year-old chicken."

"If you have good cattle, you'll do very well. You've never seen a Mercedes dealer go out of business going to get hit," adds Gust.ou're going to get hit," adds Gust.

For additional information on the Angus Sire Alliance,eb page: www.circlearanch.com.

Circle A's Calan Broadbent Feeding System is one of a kind. The 96 stalls automatically measure dry matter feed intake on each animal. It has eight pens, four on a side,how the program works:

Whole contemporary groups with all sires represented are selected from the overall testing program. They go into the feed conversion unit at Huntsville, MO, in January at exactly the same time as the remaining cattle go to Platte Valley Feeders, Kearney, NE. Rations are identical at both locations, according to Mark Akin, Circle A's general manager.

The feed conversion system is almost completely automatic, but it does take manager John McBee 10 days to train each calf. A yellow medallion hanging around the animal's neck (see photo inset) has a computer chip that opens the gate as the calf approaches and closes it when he calf can trigger the gate.

McBee uses a computerized mixing wagon containing all feed mixes and data on each calf. It takes about 21/2 hours to feed 96 calves twice daily.

"It measures the exact amount needed and vacuums up what isn't eaten," says McBee. After feeding the cattle, McBee pulls off the data with a laptop computer, files it on hard drive twice each day and sends it to William Herring, University of Missouri geneticist, for analysis.

The unique thing about the test program is feed conversion data, not just growth and carcass information, notes Herring.

"Generally, those animals that eat more also grow more," he says, "but we still find bulls with the same growth level where their intake genetics differ."

David Gust, owner of Circle A Angus, Iberia, MO believes there are genetic differences in bloodlines for feed efficiency. "There's a big difference between top and bottom eaters," t we are trying to find out."