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Cattlemen's College Roundup: Hot Topics at the 2019 Cattle Industry Convention

Give beef producers credit: They know when to head south. Nearly 10,000 of them picked this week to converge in New Orleans for the annual Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show. It’s not balmy here, but 50˚F. feels like a day at the beach compared with what most of them left at home. 

Here are five highlights from the opening sessions of the Cattlemen’s College, the producer education program that kicks off the Convention.

1. Split-timed artificial insemination (AI). 

Most producers AI some or all of their beef cows. A growing practice is to use reproductive hormones to synchronize heat so a whole set of heifers or cows can be AI’ed simultaneously by the clock, whether they’re showing visible signs of heat or not. It’s called fixed-time AI, and at best, about 55% of a group will conceive this way. Dave Patterson, a University of Missouri reproductive specialist, told producers about research efforts to improve that percentage. The new way is called split-timed AI. They put an Estrotect patch on the back of a cow. It shows if that animal is being ridden by other cows, a visible sign of estrus. Those cows are bred by the clock at exactly 66 hours after the last administration of progesterone. The remaining cows that are not showing visible signs of heat are AI’ed exactly 24 hours after that. “It’s improving our overall conception rates by a few percentage points,” Patterson says.

2. What’s in a name? 

Ashley Grant’s family owns the V8 Ranch, a Texas Brahma operation. About 15 years ago, they switched from being production driven only to being production and marketing driven. “We studied our customers and began analyzing trends, and put more emphasis on marketing,” she told producers. As a measure of success, she said, their average sale price per head has gone from $3,100 in 2008, to $8,500 in 2018. They got so good at marketing their ranch that Grant started a business, Ranch House Designs, a few years ago to help other farms do the same. They’ve worked with over 1,000 farms since then, including seedstock farms and direct-market farms, with website development, logo designs, colors, social media, and names. There’s a lot in a name, she told Cattlemen’s College students. For instance, her own V8 Ranch got its name from the first owner in the 1940s who had a car dealership and liked the new V-8 engines. That story still gives the ranch a way to engage its customers. “If you want to make a connection with your customers, think carefully about your farm name,” she said. She put farm marketing efforts in this order: name, color choice, logo design, website development, social media plans, and print advertising.

3. EPDs made simple. 

EPDs, or expected progeny differences, are genetic measurements of what a bull is expected to impart to his calves. There are dozens of traits – birth weight, weaning weight, marbling scores, reproductive performance, and more. In fact, there are so many numbers to look at when making bull selections that it gets confusing, especially when in the end, the only thing that counts is profits. Jared Decker, a Missouri Extension beef specialist, told beef producers there’s a simplified way to make sense of the numbers: an economic selection index. “This is an EPD for profit,” he says. It combines the traits for which you are most interested in breeding into your calf crop and weights them by economic importance. These indexes, which come from the various cattle breed associations, are then expressed in the dollar difference per calf sired. “It’s simple; it boils it down to one number,” said Decker. “It balances more numbers and information than anyone can do in their head. We’ve looked at this in some real beef herds, and it works. When we said a bull would add $187 in value per calf, we actually ended up with a little more than that. The results are what we call robust.”

4. Crossbreeding – the free ride. 

Producers still aren’t getting the full value from beef cattle crossbreeding, said Bob Weaber, a beef Extension specialist at Kansas State University. Some producers breed a purebred cow to a bull of a different breed, and think that’s good crossbreeding. But, said Weaber, two-thirds of the value of crossbreeding comes from having a crossbred cow. She benefits from crossbreeding in many economic ways – breeding performance, calving, milking, and health. Full-value crossbreeding comes from having a crossbred cow, he said.

5. And a little football for Super Bowl week. 

Keynote speaker Terry Bradshaw, the Hall of Famer quarterback for the Steelers and now an award-winning NFL broadcaster for Fox Sports, came to rub shoulders with fellow cattlemen. He’s long had a ranch of his own in his hometown in northern Louisiana. He told beef producers about his first set of 220 heifers he bought while he was still playing for the Steelers in the 1970s. At the time, he was only making $25,000 a year as an NFL quarterback, but he had a five-year contract. He used that contract to get a government-backed loan for the heifers, then learned how to be a real rancher, including making hay, AI’ing cows, vaccinating, and dehorning. “I love being here to talk about cows with you,” he told the cattle raisers. “They won’t let me talk about this stuff on Fox Sports.” 

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