Angus Advisor: Southeast (October 2020)
“Wile E. Coyote”, Super Genius, was always on target, or so he thought. I’m sure you recall the cartoon where he was always going just a little too fast before he realized he had run off the cliff. Beef production requires setting targets to achieve premiums and market high quality cattle. However, producers must be focused on achieving these goals without running off the metaphorical cliff. Producers that keep a focus on fertility, cow inputs, feet and legs along with other convenience traits will be stronger over the long term.
The quickest way to get off target is to move a herd toward infertility. Although no one intentionally does this, it can unfortunately happen. In discussions with producers, fertility and longevity issues seem to be the biggest concern on cow calf operations. For those developing their own replacements, it is imperative to make deliberate moves to achieve a 90% or higher weaned calf crop. An operation that focuses on mature females and replacement heifers conceiving earlier in the breeding season is key. Even with good reproductive management though, the wrong genetic mating can limit progress on fertility.
A good EPD to use when retaining 20% of heifers as replacements is $M or Maternal Weaned Calf Value. Specifically, for this discussion, $M uses heifer pregnancy (HP), mature cow weight (MW), claw set and foot angle as a portion of the index. Focusing on these traits along with good reproductive management steps are essential for long term profitability. This does not mean that this is the only selection tool to use, but it may be a good place to start. Once producers familiarize themselves with $M, they can also make more specific selections by looking at traits such as HP, for example, or if cow size or cow inputs need to be improved, producers have the ability to choose bulls that are within a certain range for $EN or MW for their environment and management goals.
On top of this, producers must continue to be cattle savvy when evaluating potential replacements. Although genomic EPDs are essential, visual appraisal will continue to be necessary. The foot scoring poster provided online by the Angus Association is a tool that every producer can learn and use on their operation. Search online for “Angus Foot Score Guidelines” to locate the poster. Producers can use the score of 5 as ideal for claw set and foot angle. Combining visual appraisal of replacements with the use of the claw set and foot angle EPDs in bull selection can help improve foot quality and soundness in the cow herd. When comparing claw set and foot angle EPDs between bulls, the lower number is preferred.
The phrase “slow is fast” applies when making improvements in functional traits while maintaining economically important traits. It will take time, but it will pay dividends in the future. Functional traits such as fertility, foot soundness, and cow size will always be focused targets for cow-calf producers.