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Breed association representatives discuss value of EPDs in depth

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Several breed association representatives convened during a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattlemen to Cattlemen episode to discuss and analyze the value of expected progeny differences (EPDs).  

Dan Moser, former president at Angus Genetics Inc., Tom Brink, chief executive officer at Red Angus Association of America, Shane Bedwell, chief operating officer at American Hereford Association, Colt Keffer, north central representative for American International Charolais Association and Tom Strahm, commercial marketing director at American Gelbvieh Association delve into exactly what EPDs are and explain their importance of utilizing the tool in production systems. 

The panel notes EPDs describe the difference in performance a producer could expect from an individual animal from their contemporaries. According to the team, EPDs are reliable and producers can use them with confidence to improve their herds.  

Value of EPDs 

EPDs combine pedigrees, genomics, performance of relatives and the animal’s own performance for producers to utilize.  

“We’re getting an objective, accurate value producers can compare across farms and ranches,” explains Moser. “It pulls all the environmental differences from ranch to ranch out, so it’s truly a direct genetic value.” 

EPDs are well known in registered herds, but they also have their place in commercial herds. Commercial producers today are looking to make multi-trade improvements and EPDs allow them to improve calving ease, maternal aspects, growth and more. 

Brink believes EPDs are the most valuable tool to help producers accomplish this goal. Producers can rely on and use EPDs with confidence.  

He continues, “In fact, EPDs have never been better,” noting EPDs today include DNA and genomic testing, adding value and accuracy to the data.  

To ensure all EPD information is correct, a system is implemented.  

“The EPD protocol at the American Hereford Association is a whole herd reporting program,” Bedwell explains, adding, breeders send in every part of their data either through mail or online, allowing the association to produce data every week. “With the progressiveness of several breeders, and within breeds, getting this information and building accuracy of certain EPDs is extremely important.”  

Genomic testing  

According to the panel, genomic testing is a great tool to determine the accuracy of multiple calves, especially for young animals lacking progeny.  

“It’s one of the greatest values of doing DNA testing on young animals because producers get the benefit of some proof,” shares Brink. “They actually get the same impact in terms of EPD accuracy, and an increase in this accuracy, as if the animal had a significant number of progenies.”  

This can vary trait by trait, but it jumpstarts the accuracy of an EPD and creates more reliability and predictability for the producer to use. The One Step Methodology is allowing DNA information to be incorporated on the front end of the evaluation, ensuring accurate results. 

Actual performance versus EPD 

“I think it’s a lot like any kind of bull buying experience,” explains Keffer, adding, producers need to keep in mind the difference in actual performance and an expected progeny difference. “Actual performance is what producers can expect a bull to do in production, not particularly how he weighs and measures on a particular day.”  

Although some producers want to see actual performance data, EPDs provide an important look into how producers can build their herd for the future and looking further than just the animal’s performance on days data were collected.   

Actual data on one trait, such as birthweight, will not be transferred throughout the herd. For example, a low-birthweight bull will more than likely be out of a first-calve heifer.  

According to Moser, this is occurs because, “A first-calf heifer is going to have a calf weighing seven to nine pounds lighter than she will when she’s older. This low birthweight is not going to be transmitted back to the entire herd – it is just an environmental thing.” 

“EPDs are a very important factor of selecting how producers want to build their herd in the future, not so much a particular day, but what a bull will do for the herd years and years to come,” Keffer adds.  

This is one of the factors EPD equations take into consideration and eliminate.   

Trait and economic indices 

The American Gelbvieh Association was one of the first to develop a feeder profit index. 

 “This index looks at all the growth and carcass traits, so if producers are selecting bulls for terminal feeder cattle, they can use this index for high growth and high carcass traits,” explains Strahm, noting producers should also look at the individual components of said trait to make sure the bull in consideration has an acceptable EPD in the individual component and not just the index.  

Bioeconomic indexes take the production and cost traits, and then put them together to obtain market weight traits. Brink explains putting these traits together gives producers an economic index, which can affect their profitability very directly. 

 As most producers are trying to make multi-trade improvements, indexes allow them to simplify selection decisions.  

“Producers really can change a population by using those indexxes and really find the most profitable combinations for the commercial industry,” shares Moser.  

EPDs, along with indexes, have progressed and made it easier for the producer to improve their herd by focusing on pure genetics.   

Information in this article was presented in a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattlemen to Cattlemen episode dated Feb. 3, 2021.  

Delcy Graham is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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