At its simplest, the seedstock sector represents both the beginning and the end of beef production. It provides the genetics utilized by commercial cattle producers to build market calves for harvest, as well as replacement females to replenish the commercial cow factory. Seedstock producers also provide the genetics they and their peers will use to build the next generation of seedstock.

Ideally, seedstock production also represents the final link in the production chain, as producers survey successes and failures based on economic signals received by them and their commercial customers, and adjust the genetic potential.

That’s where it gets complicated.

Even when economic signals are clear – and some would argue they never are – mating decisions for seedstock today cannot result in commercial use for at least two years; and market results can’t be known for at least three years.

What goes into mating decisions represents an attempt to find balance amid a chaotic array of data. There are weights, measures, EPDs, indices, various DNA profiles, pedigrees, inbreeding coefficients, etc.

Learning and sorting through this complexity is all the more remarkable when you remember that, in relative terms, modern seedstock production – modern beef production for that matter – is still in its infancy.

“Distinct breeds did not emerge until the second half of the 18th century when the industrial revolution in Europe created a need for more productive animals,” writes Harlan Ritchie, Michigan State University distinguished professor of animal science, in his book, “Breeds of Beef and Multi-Purpose Cattle.”

“More than any other single factor, the need to feed workers of the newly created mills and factories was responsible for the advent of modern breeds and breeding practices…It is probably not an exaggeration to state that the industrial revolution spawned the cattle revolution…,” Ritchie writes.

Consider that Hereford and Angus cattle came to the U.S. in the late 1800s. Research aimed at beef cattle didn’t started until the early 1900s. And the modern U.S. beef industry, built upon cheap corn and energy, didn’t start taking shape until after World War II. Technology to successfully freeze and thaw semen didn’t debut until the 1950s, and the Continental breeds didn’t show up in the U.S. until the 1960s.

If you ever wonder how successful seedstock producers have been in harnessing evolving technology, check out the genetic trends; some breeds have literally transformed themselves in less than two decades.