by Bob Weaber, Cow-calf Extension Specialist
Bull buying is an activity on the horizon for many cow-calf producers. With the winter/spring sale season just around the corner it is a great time consider your bull buying strategy. In addition to revisiting your breeding system (make sure you capture the value of maternal heterosis) and alignment of selection criteria to production/marketing constraints, producers should evaluate the opportunity to purchase bulls that have been genotyped. Many seedstock producers are genotyping their sale offering to support the purchase decisions of their commercial customers. Sometimes the genotyped bulls cost a little more, but the added value far exceeds the cost, in my opinion.
The inclusion of genotype data in genetic evaluation systems of the US beef breeds has been described as a quantum leap forward in predictive power. EPDs and resulting indexes for animals with genotypes included in the genetic evaluation process have substantially higher accuracy values. The increase in accuracy means decreased selection decision risk and more precise selection decisions. Genetic progress in the beef value chain is dependent on the genetic decisions made by seedstock and commercial cattle producers. Those decisions are informed by EPD and selection indexes. Inclusion of a genotype in a genetic evaluation of a young bull that is a selection candidate adds accuracy to the animal’s EPDs. That improvement in accuracy is roughly equivalent to collecting phenotypic records and including those in the evaluation for his entire first calf crop for all traits evaluated. For some traits, the equivalent progeny count exceeds 15-20 head.
Substantial improvements in EPD accuracy for non-parent animals (animals with no progeny recorded) for calving ease, conventional growth and carcass traits is valuable. Improvements in the accuracy of EPD for traits like heifer pregnancy, stayability, and maternal traits, where non-parents won’t have a performance record, may prove to be of even higher value. Improving the accuracy of that decision point is expected to have significant impact and value.
Be sure to ask your seedstock supplier about the genotype status of the bulls you are considering for purchase. Many bull sale catalogs don’t include EPD accuracy, so some inquiry is needed. A bull with a pedigree estimate (accuracy of approximately 0.05) is great deal different than one with performance data and genomics (resulting accuracies of ~0.3-0.4 or better). If accuracy values are not presented in the catalog, use breed registry websites to look up the animals you’re considering and inspect the accuracies. Also look for a notation or logo indicating the animal’s genomic test status. For example, American Angus Association denotes a genomic tested animal by which test was run (HD50K) near the top of the animal search results. Make your purchases really count in 2020 by using all the tools available to inform your decision making!