Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Figuring it out

It would be pretty unusual these days to go to a bull sale and not find Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) listed in the catalogue. The question for prospective buyers, then, is how much store should be put on these figures when deciding what bulls will best suit their breeding programmes. Putting aside stud buyers buying genetics for gain in their own herd, it is important for a commercial buyer to ask what the bull has been fed. Has it been fed maize, has it been living on fodderbeet for six months, or has it been grass-raised with hay and/or baleage? If you think the bull hasn’t been subjected to the same nutritional challenges, it then becomes an issue. A stud breeder will always present his bulls in forward condition to express the genetics within that bull.

Commercial farmers looking for replacement bulls to put over their run cows should also be asking the question: does the breeder/seller’s programme match my own? For instance, are they calving heifers as two-year-olds or three-year-olds, do they apply the same pressures to fertility (eg, culling of dry cows), and is the environment similar? It’s also important to fully appreciate what your market is – that is, what type of cattle you want to breed for what end result?

Once these issues are established, and the sale decided on, it’s a matter of prioritising requirements around traits. Look for a balance of traits that don’t neglect the two main ones – fertility, and growth to carcase. Fertility and growth are the key drivers to overall beef profitability.

Just as you’d consult a map when trying to get from Point A to Point B, you need to establish what direction you need your cattle progeny to be heading in. To do this, you first need to know where your own herd is in terms of performance, fertility etc.

The stud owner’s job is to present the bulls looking as good as possible so people will buy them, so the EBVs will tell you the genetic make-up within each of these animals to take the progeny to a new level of profitability and efficiency. Often you cannot see these production traits – such as eye muscle, fat cover, calving ease – by simply looking at the bull.

Buyers should consider breed average indexes first and foremost to see how each bull’s performance compares with the rest of the breed. These usually can be found at the front of the catalogue under the Percentile Bands table.

It is important to look for a balance of traits.

Buying smart means trusting the EBV system so your gain in productivity and efficiency is enhanced. Gather information on the dam to get a good picture of the animal’s potential.

Other important traits to help efficiency in a beef herd are gestation length and 200, 400 and 600-day weights. Combined with moderate birthweight, the shorter the gestation length the more calving ease the cow experiences, and therefore improved cow re-breeding performance. The cow’s ability to get in-calf early is more beneficial so we go back to having the right type of cattle for your farm and feeding regime. The culling of any dry females every year is an important policy here.

The 200-day weight is made up of 50% milk from the cow and 50% growth trait. It is important that the commercial breeder not just consider who they are selling to, but how those cattle might perform for that buyer. The good breeders know where their cattle will go and what those buyers are looking for. Many finishers are now starting to track whose cattle grow the best.

Calf weights are also used to ascertain the maternal ability insofar as milk production of the dams. The weight of calf at weaning is a key driver to getting it to a killable weight before the second winter.

Perhaps the most important trait is fertility, for this dictates the cow’s or heifer’s ability to conceive. These are measured by “days to calving”, which determines the dam’s early puberty, cycling and conception rate. Scrotal size of the yearling bull also determines earlier age of puberty and increased semen production, but once they have achieved a minimum threshold, increased size is of little extra benefit.

In summary, the EBVs provide the comparative data within a breed of various traits that can be prioritised by a buyer.

Without discarding the structural attributes that the eye appraisal an experienced stockman brings to a sale, they give the buyer the “specifications” he or she might be needing – like buying a new tractor.

  • Buyers can be confident of making economic gain with their beef herds by putting emphasis on genetic traits that suit their operations
  • Use a combination of stockmanship, measured data (EBVs) and plain old common sense
  • Know your breeding objectives and work out a buying strategy with the help of a trusted agent or the stud breeder, and trust the system
  • Work out your budgets, mark a number of suitable bulls throughout the catalogue, then back your judgment
  • Don’t buy what you didn’t mark as the preferred sire/s, and use the website to search for those that fit your programme. Then go and check them out.


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