NALF Line | January 2014

As the last leaves fall and the final Christmas gifts are unwrapped, people everywhere are bidding goodbye to 2013. Though it might be easy for some to fall into the typical after-Christmas lull, breeders everywhere are ringing in 2014 by gearing up for another winter, another year and another opportunity to improve their herds.

The turn of the year is upon us, and calves will be on the ground soon. With that in mind, it is never too early to begin thinking about spring bull sales. For many producers, it can be one of the busiest and most exciting times of the year. However, without proper preparation, it can quickly turn into one of the most hectic and stressful. In order to make the most of bull sales, it is absolutely critical that performance data be turned in on time and accurately.

The Limousin breed, along with the cattle industry as a whole, is data-driven. The more information that can be provided on the animal, the better the buyer can understand what to expect. Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) have revolutionized selection in the commercial and seedstock industries, resulting in increased gains in genetics for many different traits. The National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium explains how EPDs are “data-driven computations and the accuracy of an individual EPD is based on the amount of information used to estimate that EPD for an individual.” For example, a younger or unproven bull with little or no data reported on him will not only show a low accuracy for any given trait, but will also be more prone to a wide range of change. By continuing to report numbers on bulls, as well as their progeny, accuracy will climb and measures for change will be reduced.

There are four particular types of data especially important to the beef industry: weight data, novel trait data, ultrasound or carcass data, and genomic data.

Weight data, as its name suggests, refers to live weight data on the cattle, including birth weight, weaning weight and yearling weight. As calving season progresses, breeders are asked to collect as much calving data as possible from newborn calves and report the information in a timely manner.

Keep in mind NALF’s requirements when reporting weaning and yearling weights. Calves can be weaned as early as 160 days and as late as 250 days, and there must be at least 140 days between weaning and yearling. In order for yearling data to be valid, animals must be between 330 and 450 days old. It is also important to note that if there is any more than 90 days spread in age in a contemporary group, it must be split into two. Do not weigh all calves on the exact date they are 205 or 365 days old. Calves must all be weighed on the same date or data will be skewed.

Novel trait data is data such as scrotal circumference, calving-ease scores and docility. Scrotal circumference should be measured when yearling data is collected, and docility scores should be evaluated at weaning. When turning in docility scores, it is important to be as accurate as possible in the subjective scoring system. A docility score of three is the average calf at weaning: manageable, but nervous and impatient. An animal with a docility score of one is totally quiet and docile. When in the chute, this animal will not pull back or even flick its tail.

Ultrasound and carcass data include intramuscular fat, ribeye area, back fat thickness, and carcass weight. This requires the appropriate ultrasound technology and personnel in order to obtain accurate results. Ultrasound data collection should be done near the same time yearling data is collected, and should include every animal in the group. Ultrasound carcass data makes up a majority of carcass data that NALF has to base carcass EPDs and genomic profilers on.

Genomic data is determined by SNP DNA testing and includes genotypes for polled and color, as well as parentage and the Limousin profiler. The aid of genomic data helps make informed breeding decisions. It is imperative this data not wait until the last minute before the sale. Leave at least four weeks for the sample to reach the lab and results to be obtained.

To assure the quickest processing, send all hair, blood or semen samples directly to NALF on the appropriate medium (no plastic bags please) and see that samples are taken correctly. Results will be released as soon as NALF receives them from the lab. This data proves very valuable, as commercial customers have paid $1,000 to $1,500 more for bulls that are homozygous black and/or polled according to NALF’s compiled sale data.

Accurate performance data collected and submitted by breeders is without question the most important element in NALF’s genetic evaluation process. True data is the best data. Reliable genetic values are only possible if the raw data from which they are derived is provided by breeders.

There must be some variation in data in order for it to have merit. For example, in a herd of 100 animals, not every single calf can have a docility score of one. If there is no variation, there will be no change in EPDs. With EPDs being huge tools today, it is absolutely necessary that data be reported completely, honestly, accurately and timely. In order to truly let your star animals shine, they need others to be compared to. A bull with a calving- ease of -10 will not reflect that number in his EPDs if he is compared to other significantly low calving-ease bulls with similar numbers. Without variation, no change will be seen in EPDs.

Spring lies ahead, which is always a very exciting time for cattle breeders. However, now is the time to see that all data is collected and turned in properly. If breeders take care of the little things now, they should be able to sit back and admire the results of their hard work come sale time. After all, it is today’s preparation that will produce tomorrow’s success.

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