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Tracking Profitable Sires
Helping beef producers select profitable sires is the purpose of Iowa’s Tri-County Sire Profit Analysis, a program of the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF). When it began in 2003, it ranked the performance of just 35 sires. Today, the analysis evaluates more than 3,500 sires annually.
Producers from 27 states consign calves or yearlings to the Tri-County program. The cattle are fed in one of seven feedlots in southwest Iowa after weaning or after the yearlings come off grass. At the end of the feeding period, owners receive summarized reports showing the performance of the cattle in both the feedlot and the packing plant.
Producers also receive a sire summary if the cattle sent to the feedlot included five or more progeny from one bull. The summary uses progeny performance to rank sires against other sires whose progeny is on test. Some 6,000 to 7,000 head of sire-identified young stock are evaluated each year. The performance of these is used to create sire rankings in overall profitability, as well as in feedlot, health, and carcass performance.
“The Sire Profit Analysis is one of the management tools we use to determine the sires that are performing well for us,” says Matt Kleeman, Braymer, Missouri.
For the past 15 years, the Kleemans have sent 80 to 120 calves to be fed on test at the TCSCF feedlot. Each year, the Kleemans’ cattle represent five to eight different sires to be individually evaluated and ranked by the Sire Profit Analysis according to the performance of their progeny.
“When we get the summaries back on our sires, we pay attention to all of the measured traits,” says Kleeman. “We do pay particular attention to average daily gain and carcass quality, because these traits play an important role in increasing net dollars per carcass. We tend to cull bulls siring cattle grading Select or low Choice.”
The Kleemans use the individualized sire analyses, of course, to select herd sires to use more widely in their breeding program. They also use the information to select replacement heifers sired by bulls excelling in multiple traits.
“We hope to continue improving the percentage of our cattle that grade well in both carcass yield and quality,” says Kleeman. “By culling sires whose progeny don’t perform well, we’re able to produce and market more uniform sets of cattle. Over time, that pays off. We believe we’re improving our herd each year, which improves the overall performance and profitability of our cattle.”
Showing how individual sires potentially impact herd profitability is a strong suit of the Tri-County Sire Profit Analysis. “One thing that should cause producers to sit up and take notice is the difference the analysis shows in profitability between the bulls in the top 25% ranking for profitability and those in the bottom 25%,” says Darrell Busby, TCSCF manager.
“Of 776 sires evaluated between 2010 and 2014, progeny from the high-profit sires netted $274 per head,” he says. “Progeny from the low-profit bulls netted $128 per head. That’s a difference of $146 per calf, making for an overall difference in profit of $2,920 on a set of just 20 calves.”
A trait playing one of the most critical roles in profitability is average daily gain (ADG). “The faster-gaining cattle also tend to have a higher carcass weight,” says Busby.
Performance analyses show that these additional traits go hand in hand with high ADGs.
• Sound health. Cattle with high ADGs tend to suffer less from bovine respiratory disease, the most common illness of cattle on feed. “Eighty percent of the cattle we treat in the feedlot are treated for respiratory problems,” says Busby.
Treatment costs for progeny from the high-profit sires come to $7.60 per head and $12.87 per head for the low-profit sires.
“Our data says some cattle have a predisposition to respiratory disease and that it is a heritable trait,” says Busby. “We’re working with companies and universities to identify DNA markers that could help producers identify cattle that are less susceptible to respiratory problems.”
• Calm disposition. “Disposition is 38% to 40% heritable,” says Busby. “Cattle with calm dispositions gain faster and grade better than do cattle that are not calm. Because it’s easier to detect illness in them, calm cattle are more likely to get treated in the feedlot. They respond better to treatment than cattle that are not calm and, as a result, have a lower death loss.”
• High carcass quality. “Our data shows that faster-gaining cattle grade better than do slower-gaining cattle,” he says. “They have higher marbling scores and tend to grade upper Choice and high Prime.”
When selecting sires, Busby suggests a three-prong strategy.
1. Select for balanced traits. “Don’t just select for high average daily gain; there are other traits that need to be brought along with it,” he says. “We have yet to find the perfect sire, but the sires that make it into the top 25% of the sire summary are above average in all the traits. Try to find bulls with the genetics to improve the weaknesses of your cows without giving up your herd’s strengths.”
2. Pay attention to expected progeny differences (EPDs). To illustrate the critical role of EPDs in sire selection, Busby shares the story of a TCSCF participant whose cattle regularly graded 80% Choice, but one set of cattle graded only 50% Choice.
A closer look at the EPDs of the sire of the poor-performing cattle showed that the bull ranked in the bottom 7% of its breed for marbling.
The producer switched sires to one ranking in the top 3% of its breed for marbling. “The first calf crop from this bull graded 95% Choice,” says Busby. “By keeping daughters from that bull, this producer will move the marbling score of his cattle into a consistently high ranking.”
3. Consider accuracy percentiles. Some young sires with high EPDs have low accuracies because they’ve sired few progeny or because the EPDs are based on relatives. “Before using these young sires, wait until they have more progeny, and then see how their accuracy ratings respond,” says Busby.
Time Shows Progress
Producers participating in the Tri-County Sire Profit Analysis since its start more than a decade ago have seen marked improvement in the performance of their cattle.
“By using the information to select herd sires, they’ve improved the health, gain, and quality grade of their cattle,” says Darrell Busby, Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity manager. “Their cattle are grading better with less back fat, and they’ve also made a lot of progress in disposition. All of that has value. Genetics do make a difference.”