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Sire Selection – Importance of selecting sire touted by industry groups

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Bull selection is at the top of many producers’ minds this time of year, as seedstock producers are selling sires.

“I have two commandments when it comes to cattle breeding, and the first one is important and applicable,” said Wade Shafer of the American Simmental Association during a Feb. 19 webinar. “That commandment is ‘Thou shalt select superior sires.’”

While Shafer noted that it would be difficult to find a producer who would disagree, or one who bought a bull with the intent of making an inferior purchase, he added, “I would opine that, quite frequently, we don’t do as good a job of selecting sires as we could. We are often times not leveraging all the tools and information that we have in our toolbox.”

Shafer was joined by Dan Moser of the American Angus Association and Jack Ward of the American Hereford Association in a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association webinar titled, “New Tools in Bull Selection.” 

Looking at genetics

Shafer continued that, when selecting sires, there are two options for producers, and he likened the options to playing a card game. 

“I compare predicting genetic levels to a really big poker game where we have multiple hands on the table,” he said. “Some of the cards are facing up, and some are facing down. We are attempting to make an assessment of the value of each one of those hands in the same way we are attempting to assess the value of a set of sires.”

When comparing these hands, Shafer noted that we can “count cards” to determine the possible value of each hand, or we can take a shotgun approach. 

“If we play the game of sire selection by counting cards, we are using EPDs,” he said. “If we do anything else, we are determining the genetic levels with a shotgun approach.” 

“We have known for decades that EPDs are far and away the most accurate estimate of an animal’s genetics,” Shafer added. 

Charting directions

In making genetic decisions, Shafer noted that producers are charting a course for the future of their herd.

“When we are making a decision – whether we are putting it on paper, thinking about it or making the decision as the bulls are coming through the sale barn – we are all charting some direction,” Shafer said. 

He noted that many producers head towards higher output, whether that be in the form of more growth, more milk or more of some other genetic component. 

“The question becomes, is more better?” asked Shafer.

Selecting for profit

Shafer added that if a corn grower puts fertilizer on a crop, it will continue to increase crop yields, but at some point, a ceiling exists. 

“At some point in time, the extra output is going to be outweighed by the extra costs of the fertilizer,” he explained. “There is a better way to go about selection. What is that better approach? Selecting for profit.”


Shafer noted that selecting for profit makes more sense for producers than selecting for output.

“If we do select for profit appropriately, we wind up getting fatter cattle,” he said. “If we are in this business to make money, profit should be what we are selecting for.”

Because many producers are much more accustomed to selecting for output, rather than profit, Shafer noted, “Profit is simply dollar of output minus dollars of input, and to help producers, we have developed economic selection indexes.”

The indexes weigh relative economic traits based on their contribution to the profit of cattle. 

“In the last 10 years, many of the breed association have worked very hard at providing customers an opportunity to do multi-trait selection using economically relevant traits in various production systems,” said Ward.  

New selection indexes allow producers to compare economically relevant traits. 

“We talk about maximizing profit,” Ward continued. “We are taken back when our calves weighed a little more than last year, so we chase that. But what did we give up in terms of profitability as we chased calf weight?”

“Economic indexes allow producers to select animals with the most favorable combination of EPDs,” Ward said, noting that the indexes use a multi-trait approach and are often called dollar indexes or profitability EPDs. “These dollar indexes allow us to predict the differences among the sires and the future profits derived from their progeny.”

Selection indexes

Moser noted that selection indexes strive to combine lots of genetic information in a simple format that is easy for producers to digest. 

“We are faced with more and more information bombarding us,” he said. “These selection indexes take a lot of different points of information and weigh them to give us a single number or a few numbers to describe the economic merit of an animal.”

Selection indexes, he continued, are designed to predict profit for a specific group of producers. 

“We have terminal indexes for the situation where bulls are being used to produce feeders or fed cattle,” Moser explained. “We also have maternal indexes for producers who will be retaining heifers as well as marketing steers.”

“With these indexes, we are talking about probably 10 total traits that cover the entire gamut of beef cattle production,” Shafer noted. “These are the traits that we believe are most economically relevant.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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