Carcass Weight Lbs
Reproduction Production Product
Trenkle & Willham, 1977
Breed Group Percentage Choice and % Retail Product (Adapted from USDA Germplasm Evaluation Program, Progress Report no. 22.)
Marbling (% Choice) % Retail Product
Larger Value Indicates
The most important thing any producer can do is to honestly acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses and have a very clear picture of what impacts their profitability. The other important point, is to consider these questions at least five years into the future, as any breeding decisions need to be focused to a future direction in the cow herd.
Some good research work that looked at profitability drivers at the cow-calf level split production into three categories. Reproduction — anything that impacts reproductive fitness of the cow herd, Production — growth and gain, Product — carcass or end product. The traditional chain is like most of the industry in Canada today. A value chain rewards producers for meeting product targets and an integrated chain pays the producer all the way back from the retail shelf.
For producers who plan to remain in traditional structures (selling weaned calves) it is important to keep the focus on reproductive fitness, which is 10 times as important to profitability as carcass traits. That said, it is also important to recognize the emerging opportunities to add value through carcass characteristics and to think about how cattle will be marketed in the future.
Most of the progress in any beef cow herd is made through sires that come into the breeding program. A single cow in her lifetime will produce a few calves, while a prolific sire may produce several hundred.
The simplest and easiest way to target carcass markets is to use the tools of crossbreeding. There are significant differences between breeds for carcass yield and marbling. If we look at the following table, it becomes apparent that the breeds that excel in marbling are almost the complete inverse of those that excel in retail product yield. This means that complementary breeds can be used to target specific markets. For a lot of the mainstream marketplace this means we can keep fleshy, fertile cow herds without giving up meat production simply by using a complementary terminal sire. (Initials in the chart refer to breeds AR — Red Angus, AN –Angus, SM — Simmental, HE — Hereford, CH — Charolais, GV — Gelbveih, and LM — Limousin)
Se Lectingabu Ll Within A Breed
It is impossible to look at a live animal and know with any degree of certainty what the carcass looks like underneath. This is where ultrasound technology comes to the rescue. Ultrasound uses sound waves to measure rib-eye size, fat depth and intramuscular fat (marbling). It is not recommended to compare scan data across herds or different management groups, but it is useful within the context of a bull supplier’s herd to identify outliers and cattle that have strengths in certain areas. Because of testosterone, bulls will not exhibit the same levels of marbling or fat as a finished steer, but the relative ranking (most marbling, most yield) of sires will tend to be preserved in their progeny.
It is OK to ask your bull supplier to ultrasound.
While not all breeds have this tool available, EPD are currently the most effective method of selecting specific traits in sires that we have. On young bulls from herds that have been ultrasounding, the EPD provide a very good indication of the relative “genetic” merit of sires. The other advantage of EPD is that they can be directly compared WITHIN BREED and ACROSS HERDS. Most breeds with carcass EPD, include both ultrasound on young seedstock and carcass data on fed cattle to produce their EPD.
EPDs can help to change cattle very rapidly, however they can’t set goals for the breeding program. Again balance is important. The following table shows the most recent available breed average EPD for several main breeds. EPDs are usually updated each spring, so check the respective breed website for the most up to date information. Not all breeds have EPDs for every trait and Charolais back fat is in millimetres.
If you have a good general assessment of your cattle and whether you are happy with the results, a good process is to go to the appropriate breed association website and look up your herd-sires. Take a glance over their carcass EPD (and others). From this you can determine if you want more/less of specific traits and the type of sires you are looking for.
Days to Finish Days
IN THE COW HERD
Let’s face it, most managers are not going to swap out a cow herd for reasons of carcass merit. We are going to breed our way anywhere we decide to go. Interested managers may want to look at using ultrasound as a tool in their own herds. If budget is limited, consider scanning replacement females, as they better express differences in marbling than bulls and provide insight into themselves and their dams. For most of us, this technology should be applied after a female meets all other criteria for form and function. If carcass data is available, consider the same
type of approach to the cowherd. Remember for most of us reproduction and growth, drive our profitability.
It is possible using this approach over time to improve the carcass characteristics of a cowherd, without giving up a quality and function of the cows.
It is also important to market these advances. There is no point in spending money unless we are going to try to capture a price from the marketplace that exceeds the cost and effort to make change in a breeding program.
Sean McGrath is a rancher and consultant from
Vermilion, AB. He can be reached at [email protected]or (780)853-9673. For additional
information visit www.ranchingsystems.com.
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