Once the tallest player in the NBA, Yao Ming measures at an astounding 7 feet, 6 inches tall. His height and athletic ability led him to be selected for the NBA All-Star game eight times. By any measure, Yao is an exceptional and well-known basketball player. And yet, in two years spent living in Latin America, I never once heard of him. Why? He doesn’t play soccer.
You may wonder what in the world Yao Ming, basketball, or soccer has to do with beef cattle genetics. In any sport or business, one of the most critical elements of success lies in choosing the right team. If I wanted to win a basketball game, I would be quite likely to try to recruit the likes of Yao Ming, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Shaquille O’Neal. By contrast, if the goal were to win a match of soccer, names like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might come to mind.
Choosing the right members of your team, like Yao Ming for basketball or Lionel Messi for soccer, is similar to choosing the right genetics to meet your goals.
Begin With The End In Mind
When setting out to select your next herd sire, you must begin by identifying the goals for your operation. Here are some questions that might help you as you undertake this process:
• Will I be breeding heifers?
• What are my available feed resources?
• Will I be selling calves at weaning?
• Will I be selling finished cattle on a quality-based grid?
• Will I be retaining heifers as replacement females?
Your answers to these questions will help you to define what traits are needed in your bull. For a genetic selection decision to make an economic impact on your ranch, it must result in increased value at the point of sale for his calves. For example, if your goal is to sell grass-fed beef, it is imperative that you select genetics designed to convert forage to beef efficiently. Identifying this point of sale prior to setting out to select a bull will allow you to choose genetics suited for that particular purpose.
Picking The Right Bull
Here’s an example to illustrate this idea:
Bill is an On Pasture reader and ranches in the Nebraska Sandhills. He calves in May, utilizes management intensive grazing, and sells all of his calves in the fall when the grass turns. He purchases bred heifers or cows for replacements as needed, rather than raising his own replacements. While buying a calving ease bull sounds good, Bill isn’t breeding any heifers, and might give up 20+ lbs at birth by selecting for lighter birth weights than necessary. A carcass bred bull seems like it would keep the buyers happy, but if he sires a slower growth rate, selecting that bull would actually result in a loss of potential revenue for Bill. Everyone likes to hear the word maternal as it relates their herd sire, but if Bill doesn’t hold back replacement females, that trait has no economic impact on his calf crop. For a rancher in Bill’s situation (breeding cows only, raising calves on grass, and selling all calves in the fall), the best member of their herdsire team would be a growth bull – one that will maximize weaning weights going onto the truck in the fall. While this bull wouldn’t be the ideal fit for every breeding application, he would be the best option for a cattleman operating in a scenario like Bill’s.
Different Strokes For Different Folks
Your herd sire doesn’t have to try to do everything all at once. Just because I played five different sports in Little League doesn’t make me an Olympian in any of them. Choose Yao Ming to play basketball, and Leo Messi to play soccer. Let terminal bulls make great steaks, and maternal bulls make great cows. Put calving ease bulls on your heifers, and growth bulls on your cows. Select a bull that is bred to make money in YOUR particular production scheme, and that is what you will do.
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