In a unique beef industry event, three major associations joined forces to host “Mapping The Maze,” a seminar focused on guiding commercial cattlemen through the tangle of genetic, feeding and marketing options.State and national leaders from the Gelbvieh, Simmental and Red Angus breeds invited cattle producers and industry personnel to Mandan, N.D., to share insight from three of the partners of International Genetic Solutions. IGS is an innovative partnership of unprecedented collaboration between progressive breed associations focused on enhancing beef industry profitability. The breed experts also showcased value-added marketing programs geared at putting more dollars in commercial producers’ pockets.Association responsibilityBy design, breed associations carry an obligation to assist members and their bull-buying customers. American Gelbvieh Association Executive Director Myron Edelman laid the foundation for the seminar by outlining those responsibilities and their alignment to the growing global population and beef consumption.“Each association’s primary duty is to maintain the registry for that breed,” explained Edelman. “But beyond that obvious function is a commitment to provide accurate data and leading-edge technology through research and marketing. Essentially, we provide information to our seedstock and commercial producers that helps them make educated decisions in order to avoid critical errors in the production performance of their cowherds.”Ranchers and feeders are continually charged with the task of optimizing beef production. In order to feed the world, they must produce more beef in less time with fewer resources – all at a lower cost.Experts predict the world population will hit 8.5 billion by the year 2030 – an increase of nearly 2 billion people. That population growth will bring a consumption need for over 28 billion pounds of beef a year – 3 billion more pounds than produced today. (Source: USDA FAS)To prepare for the future, breed associations are working diligently to equip producers with tools, like EPDs, to identify which animals possess the most productive genetic traits. “Today’s cattle are trending higher weaning and yearling weights which is one step in producing beef faster and more efficiently,” said Edelman. He also identified heavier carcass weights and better quality meat with more cattle grading Choice.“We have a lot of work ahead of us to feed the world’s growing population and meet beef consumption needs. Breed associations are the leaders in assisting producers to meet global beef demands with an economic protein source.”International Genetic SolutionsDr. Wade Shafer, American Simmental Association executive vice president, shared the vision and history behind the IGS model of synergizing breed association resources creating greater reliability in genetic evaluation.“When we formed IGS in 2010, we knew if we worked together, we’d achieve more than if we worked independently,” said Shafer.Currently, 12 breed associations represent 17 million head of registered cattle to form the world’s largest genetic evaluation – and it’s growing every year with the annual addition of 340,000 new animal records. These breeds share a common database for true across-breed EPDs, simplifying the bull-buying process for commercial cattlemen who employ planned crossbreeding to add profitability to their cattle through heterosis.“Data is the gasoline that fuels the engine of more reliable genetic predictions,” continued Shafer. IGS partners focus on improved profitability for commercial ranchers by pooling research to integrate technology and education, serving as responsible stewards of information resources.“BOLT software, developed by Theta Solutions, is the next generation of genetic evaluation,” said Shafer. “This software will deliver more accurate, genomically enhanced EPDs at lightning-fast speed, taking our predictions to heights never seen before – anywhere.”Commercial cattlemen and women will benefit directly from BOLT technology through more reliable genetic predictions when selecting bulls, plus new tools that are still in the development stages.“The sky is the limit,” concluded Shafer. “We are working on an IGS Feeder Profit Calculator that will do a better job of describing calves in terms of their actual dollar value. The calculator will provide both buyer and seller with more objective and accurate information with which to determine the relative economic value of a pen of calves. Ultimately, this results in producers who raise more profitable cattle being better rewarded for their efforts.”Creating valuable feedersRed Angus Association of America CEO Tom Brink said creating more valuable feeder cattle has three key concepts.“First, you must start with the right mind set, and a big part of that is recognizing that it is possible to breed maternally and terminally valuable cattle in a single herd. Secondly, it’s important to understand the key value attributes for cattle going through the supply chain, and then to breed and manage your cattle accordingly.”“Cattle that stay healthy, grow fast and efficiently, and then grade on the rail are the profitable winners in every scenario,” he said.He also reinforced the marketability of a uniform set of feeder calves. “Determine goals for your breeding program – whether it is straight bred or an F1 or composite system – to capitalize on hybrid vigor. If it takes more than two sentences to describe the genetic make-up of your calf crop, plan on being discounted.” Brink explained that simple, efficient breeding programs can result in a set of cattle that are above average and can potentially generate premiums when sold.His third point was to employ value-added marketing programs that verify health, genetics, a possible natural/NHTC designation, nutrition and source.“Do something good by creating calves capable of excelling through the rest of the beef supply chain,” he said, “then let others know their worth through enrollment in a value-added marketing program. More programs will be built around the traits that matter to cattle feeders, packers and consumers. Premium prices are paid for cattle with known genetics that are superior for growth and carcass traits.”To earn premium prices from feed yards, producers should seek third-party verification for their cattle’s genetic superiority for high growth and marbling genetics. “A solid health and vaccination protocol is a must,” said Brink, “and historical feed yard and carcass performance data can also help. Groups of calves sold in load-lot groups will generate more dollars, and it’s a good idea to match calves with a yard who likes to feed the kind of cattle you produce.”Boots on the groundThe best laid plans – and knowledge – lose efficacy if not implemented into real-world applications. Each of the three breeds have staff teams geared at assisting commercial producers in their respective marketing programs in order to add value to their calf crops.Katie Ochsner, RAAA commercial marketing specialist, cited USDA statistics that verify production expenses are increasing at 43 percent while net cash income is only increasing at a rate of 29 percent. “Average is the new broke,” she said. “We are not making money on average cattle.”Ochsner emphasized the importance of knowing production and break-even statistics because it costs as much or more to care for a poor animal as it does a high-quality animal.She outlined four steps that producers can implement to reduce inputs and capitalize on opportunities to rise above average status:1) Cut cow costs through improved genetics, management, feed and health protocols.2) Increase weaned calf crop percentage by improving pregnancy rates, calving management and calf health.3) Increase weaning weights through genetics, nutrition, health and tight calving season.4) Actively seek top sale price through marketing venues, value-added programs and reputation.Ochsner encouraged cattlemen to invest in their cowherd by DNA testing commercial replacement heifers to verify sires and identify those females that fall below average, consequently eliminating them from production before breeding season.Speakers concluded the seminar by hosting a question-and-answer panel discussion, answering breed-specific questions on marketing opportunities.Through AGA, ranchers with any breed of commercial cattle can utilize their Smart Select Service to maintain breeding and management records.RAAA offers genetic, source and age verification through their Feeder Calf Certification Program, opening doors for free marketing assistance and premium grids. High-growth and high-carcass-merit cattle are also candidates for the Top Dollar Angus feeder calf program.Shafer reiterated that, now more than ever, it is important for commercial and seedstock producers to collect data points – weights, performance records, carcass ultrasound and kill data – to use in conjunction with EPD and genomics for the most accurate prediction tools ever realized.“We need more differentiation in this business for superior genetics and excellent health programs,” concluded Brink. “Marketing programs will provide that distinction.”For more information, visit each breed’s respective website, gelbvieh.org, simmental.org or redangus.org; or IGS’ site, www.internationalgeneticsolutions.com.
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