EPD’s in the cattle industry can be an incredible tool when used correctly, but I find that a lot of people allow themselves to get caught up in the numbers. When I first started livestock judging under my mentor, Mark King, I remember him emphasizing the importance of the numbers matching the cattle. That is something that has always been in the back of my mind whether I am picking out bulls for a customer or sending out recommendations. I believe that most of the time, we let the EPD’s be the deciding factor when they should just be a tool.
Lately I have been noticing a push towards single trait selection, which is concerning, especially when I am buying feeder calves in the fall. 8 out of 10 ranches that use low birth weight, shorter gestation heifer bulls are having calves that are getting cut off at shipping because they are simply not big enough to keep up with the group. If we decide to keep those cut back heifers and breed them, we are breeding those smaller framed, slower maturing, slower growing cattle to our herd. And after multiple generations, the entire atmosphere of your herd has changed.
When you are using EPD’s, it is so important to be able to look at your individual cow herd, identify the holes you see, and where you can improve. Keep in mind that adjusting your genetics needs to be a long and slow moving process. Think of a river--when a river bends, it doesn’t take a sharp turn suddenly. It’s going to slowly adapt and bend in the direction it needs to go, which is exactly what we have to do. When you see a hole in your cow herd, it is important to find bulls that will not only correct the issue, but will allow you to slowly correct it.
Let’s talk about accuracy. As someone that owns about 50 mother cows, I don’t have the opportunity to take as many risks when it comes to choosing a bull. It is extremely important to me that a bull has proven ability.
You have to be able to analyze your cows, identify the holes, and know which of those holes you can address across the board while continuing to emphasize the positives of your herd.
Depending on what your ranch’s focus is, your short term goals will be different. If you raise feeder calves, your goal is not the day you sell them, it is how they end up on a consumer’s plate. Say you sell breeding stock, the short term goal is always the next generation and striving for those future generations to perform at a higher level because of the breeding decisions you make. The genetics you choose need to reflect that goal and the steps you’ll need to take to get there.
Picking bulls is one of the most exciting and complicated things, in my opinion. As a commercial cattleman, I think it is imperative to have good mentorship on bulls. Ask your rep who markets your calves what some changes are that the feeder would like to see. I believe that knowledge is power, and the more information you have, the better chance you have at choosing the right herd bulls or registered females to add to your stock.
Let the EPD numbers complement the research you’ve done on your herd, and the accuracy will improve your herd in most aspects, not just one.
I hope this was helpful, and as always, let us know if there are any topics you want to hear my thoughts on or if you have any questions!