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“Efficiency for the cowherd is a different beast,” said Matt Spangler, beef genetics specialist for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Particularly when producers think about the energy consumed and their true input costs into their cows, efficiency is important.”

Spangler added that a better job could be done to collect the exact cost of efficiency and input costs for cow/calf productions.

Spangler spoke during a webinar for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Jan. 14.  

Demands of cows

The goals producers have for their cows can be quite demanding at times by having them be fertile at a relatively young age, developing a short post-partum interval, calve unassisted, have maternal calving ease and be adaptive to any stress on a production environment. 

They also must have an optimal level of milk because not enough or too much milk can be problematic, as well as have optimal docility, good mothering abilities, be an efficient grazer and be able to maintain herself on un-harvested forage. 

“Efficiency of growth in cows is not the target. We are not trying to grow mature cows,” explained Spangler. “Maintenance requirements and efficiency are the target, and we are making them more efficient relative to their maintenance costs.”

High or low maintenance 

Spangler described a study that was done by Gordon Dickenson that partitioned energy intake to the animal and how it goes to the dam’s maintenance, gestation, lactation, progeny maintenance and food deposition of protein and fat. 

“Beef cattle have more life cycle energy intake per kilogram of edible product,” described Spangler. “A big chunk of this is because the dam’s maintenance can make a lot of improvements by simply improving the efficiency of maintenance.” 

High maintenance cows generally have higher milk production and higher visceral organ weight. Due to that high visceral organ weight, high milk-producing cows have increased maintenance requirements even when they are dry. Thus, they require more energy to maintain themselves. 

“The trick is knowing which production environment a high or low maintenance female will fit in,” commented Spangler. 

Production potential 

When feed is low in an environment, a cow with high production potential is unable to consume enough energy for their maintenance requirements and be able to have a fully functional reproductive system. 

Even though the cow may have the genetic potential to milk a lot, without the proper energy to surpass her energy requirements to maintain herself, her reproduction ability will decrease. 

On the opposite side, a cow with low production potential in an environment high in energy will only become fatter. The cow’s maintenance requirements have been met and the excess energy is unable to go towards producing milk or calf growth because the cow did not have the genetic potential to do that in the first place. 

“A cow with high production potential that does have a high genetic potential to milk more and weigh more can put that extra energy into lactation,” explained Spangler. “It’s important to understand the production environment and then fit the animals to that production environment.”

Expected progeny differences

To help figure out an animal’s genetic potential, estimated progeny differences, more commonly known as EPDs, are used. 

“Over the years as producers look at EPDs and select for increased weaning weight or increased yearly weight, we have never stopped to contemplate how much feed those animals are going to eat and will it balance out when we sell them,” commented Spangler. 

Spangler added, “The paradigm needs to shift in terms of thinking about genetic selection from just increasing a response in one trait to increasing profit potential by contemplating several traits at same time.” 

Genetic correlations 

Characteristics Spangler suggests to focus on are growth and how it relates to the animal’s mature size. Additionally, he recommends a focus more on the genetic correlations between mature weight and immature weight of birth weight, weaning weight and yearling weight. 

“If we select for increased weaning weight and yearling weight, there is certainly a potential to have a correlated response in terms of increased mature cow weight,” said Spangler.

He added that producers also need to be cognizant of mature cow size in all breeds and how they have changed through the years as people have selected to increase or decrease the prevalence of a certain trait. 

“Producers should also recognize that selection for all of the traits that are important to a cow/calf operation are not necessarily straight forward because there are so many traits that impact the bottom line,” explained Spangler. 

Madeline Robinson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Reverting back to basics

Producers can become confused and frustrated when deciding on which genetic traits to select for and if the prevalence of those traits will be increased or decreased in the herd. They can also become concerned about how those traits are going to contribute to the efficiency of a herd. 

“Anytime the matter of cow efficiency becomes overwhelmingly complex, we should revert back to the basics,” explained Matt Spangler, beef genetics specialist for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

An equation Spangler uses to help him revert back to the basics of a cow/calf operation is:

Profit = Weaning Weight x Percentage of Calf Crop x Dollars per Pound x Number of Cows – Annual cost to the cow/calf operation

“This is a very simple profit equation producers can use to help them calculate their profit and annual costs,” reiterated Spangler. 



Rapid City, S.D. – Livestock genetics produced in the U.S. are a commodity sought after by the world, Tony Clayton, president of Clayton Agri-Marketing, told beef cattle producers during the Range Beef Cow Symposium. 

“U.S. genetics are a value-added product,” Clayton said. 

Many people have conducted research to identify genetic lines that excel in growth, feed efficiency and performance. 

“These traits became especially important a few years ago when feed got high,” Clayton noted. 

“People in other countries want to adopt our genetic evaluation systems, including our breeding programs, breeding values and breed associations to catch up with us,” he continued. “They want to produce fast-growing, efficient animals that make money.”

Selling genetics

Clayton said many people wonder why the U.S. would sell live animals overseas when they should be selling boxed beef. 

“Regardless of what it costs and outside of national security, a lot of countries are going to raise a certain amount of product no matter what it costs,” Clayton explained. “A lot of the elderly leaders in some of these countries remember what it was like at the end of World War Two and the Korean War. They remember being hungry, and hungry people can be dangerous.”

Shipping livestock

Currently, animals are being shipped around the world about every six days, Clayton said. 

Animals can be shipped from the U.S. to other countries in a 40-foot modified shipping container that will hold 14 bred heifers. The container can be picked up and moved just like Wal-mart moves their containers, he said. 

It takes a lot of people to make these shipments happen. 

Many countries have foot and mouth disease and have to restock their herds every so often. 

“We are fortunate in the U.S. to have not had a case of foot and mouth disease since 1929,” Clayton said. “It is something we have to keep a close eye on.” 

“If it happens here, we won’t be able to export our product,” he said. “Look at the case of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). We still have some countries who have locked us out of their markets.”

International influence

Clayton said several countries have been importing live U.S. livestock. 

Turkey has imported a tremendous amount of cattle from the U.S. in the last three to four years. 

Egypt has had to destroy their beef and dairy herds because of foot and mouth and are in the process of repopulating. 

Russia has been a big importer of dairy and beef cattle and plans to be self-sufficient within the next five years. 

Mexico has obtained some low interest loans and is in the process of rebuilding their cattle herds. 

Vietnam has set a goal of providing one cup of milk for every child each day and is in the process of importing dairy cattle to fill this need.

Libya, Jordan and the Ukraine are also importing livestock from the U.S.

U.S. endeavors

Clayton said the U.S. is also developing livestock facilities in other countries. 

In China, the U.S. has built a swine facility, where they produce U.S. swine, provide the genetics, provide the help, train the help and provide on-site housing for bio-security reasons. 

The performance data and genetics are loaded into U.S. servers to help develop pedigrees. 

“The biggest U.S. producer of Yorkshire pigs in now in China,” Clayton said. 

Continued opportunity

Clayton sees many opportunities in other countries but cautions producers to find the right partners and a deal that will work financially. 

Other countries are also very concerned about protocol and send their veterinarians and other officials here to oversee the shipments. 

“Russia sends their people here for 21 days and China for 60 days,” Clayton said. “They want to make sure protocol is being followed, and they ask lots of questions.”

Through this process, Clayton said it is important to have effective negotiators at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) who are well-trained and understand the industry. 

Clayton sees no reason why this part of the industry won’t continue to grow.

“For every $1 billion of exports leaving the U.S., 8,400 jobs are created,” he said. 

“In 2012, we became a billion dollar industry just in animal genetics alone. That is not including valuable racehorses,” he stated. “If we take 310 million people in the U.S., that same number of people will move to middle class in China by 2020. They will need food, and we want to be who they get it from.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to


As cattle herd expansion continues, many producers are focused on selecting replacement heifers – a process that is historically based only on visual appraisal. However, products are available today to improve the selection process.

“The premier heifer selection product on the market is called GeneMax Advantage,” explains Kent Andersen, Zoetis technical services specialist. “We’ve taken what we’ve learned after testing many thousands of registered Angus seedstock and developed a commercial-oriented product to help cow/calf producers augment selection based on phenotype.”

Andersen notes that GeneMax Advantage strives to help commercial operators look at selection, mating and marketing decisions within their herds using more comprehensive genetic information about traits in the unseen and often unmeasured world.

Making a game plan

“Using this genetic test helps to synergize Angus bull buying with replacement heifer selection,” Andersen says. “When we talk to commercial users of Angus genetics, we do so in the context of having a complete genetic game plan.”

Using the analogy of a football game, Andersen compares offense to buying the best bulls in terms of superior genomically enhanced (GE)-EPDs.

He continues, “The defensive part of the game plan is using a tool like GeneMax Advantage to pick the best replacements based on both traditional and new information.”

Utilizing a combined strategy allows producers to get an increased level of genetic gain and see faster progress.

“We can progress productivity on an annual basis more quickly if we use both of these tools wisely, as opposed to just traditional means,” Andersen says.

Testing procedure

Testing heifers is a relatively simple process, Andersen notes. Producers must first collect and submit a DNA sample.

DNA can come from blood samples on a blood card, hair samples or tissue samples.

“Blood samples can be pulled from the ear or tail head – wherever the producer is most comfortable getting it from,” Tonya Amen, genetic service director at the American Angus Association (AAA), says. “For hair, we need 20 to 40 good hairs out of the switch of the tail.”

It is important when collecting hair samples to ensure the root bulb of the hair is intact.

“The third way, Allflex® tissue sampling, is more recent, and we only take tissue samples for commercial, not registered Angus, cattle,” she adds.

Orders and samples are submitted through the AAA website at or by filling out an Excel ordering spreadsheet and emailing it, as well as including a printed copy with the samples.

After samples are received, they are tested, and results are compiled.

“We determine the genotypes and send the information back to Angus Genetics, Inc. (AGI),” Andersen says. “Reports are then distributed to the customer via an emailed report and link to their secured AGI member account.”

While results are often received within three weeks, Andersen and Amen encouraged producers to allow a month for mailing of samples. The extra time also allows for re-testing if a sample fails initial testing.

Understanding the information

When information is available, producers receive a report that ranks heifers on several simple, easy-to-use economic index scores that account for the costs and value of production.

“We rank heifers based on an index of maternal traits that we call Cow Advantage for combined genetic merit for heifer pregnancy, calving ease maternal, weaning weight, growth, milk production of the cow and mature cow size,” Andersen says.

A second index, Feeder Advantage, ranks combined genetic merit for all post-weaning traits, and Andersen notes that it picks up where Cow Advantage leaves off. These traits include feedyard gain, dry matter intake, carcass weight, ribeye area and marbling scores, valued on a Certified Angus Beef (CAB) grid.

“The third index is called Total Advantage, and it includes all of the above,” he says. “It ranks the candidate replacement females on everything – maternal, feedlot and carcass.”

GeneMax Advantage also identifies animals with outlier genetic merit in key traits that may impact keep or cull and mating decisions.

“Thanks to AGI, we also have Smart Outlier reporting, which flags animals that may be out of bounds for costs associated with cow size, milk, docility, marbling and tenderness,” Andersen explains. 

Recognizing that each commercial cow/calf operation is unique, cow/calf producers can also customize thresholds for identifying outliers to more efficiently achieve specific productivity goals. 

The final component of the GeneMax Advantage report is the identification of the sires for tested heifers, if Angus bulls in the battery are HD50K or i50K tested. This enables better management of outcross mating decisions and secondary evaluation of the bull battery.

Benefits of testing

Utilizing a heifer selection product offers a number of benefits for commercial cattlemen, Amen and Andersen explain.

Amen notes, “When we think about the information that goes into these products, I don’t know of any others that are like GeneMax Advantage that incorporate the performance data and all of the database information.”

With over 180,000 Angus genotypes in AAA’s database, she adds that the tool provides an opportunity to link genetic information with the dollar-value indexes available.

She also notes that testing heifers allows comparison of animals from year to year on an equal basis.

“It allows producers to compare apples to apples each year,” Amen explains. “Producers can set benchmarks and see how they are making progress.”

Revolutionary and dynamic

“The reason we are so excited about GeneMax Advantage is it is a dynamic product and  is synergized with HD50K and i50K testing by Angus breeders,” Andersen says. “Currently, AGI and Zoetis are working on the fifth version of HD50K. It includes upwards to 100,000 animals.”

Amen adds, “As we make changes at AAA, whether that is adding new traits or new data, we can update GeneMax Advantage. It is always current. We can count on accurate, up-to-date information.

“The more producers know about the cowherd, the better job they can do in the spring as they buy Angus bulls,” Andersen adds.

Genetic testing for heifers, connected to the bull battery, provides a new paradigm in the world of genetics, he continues, noting that the value return from better bull and heifer selection and breeding decisions is poised to extend into price discovery for feeder cattle that’s based on predicted performance in the feedyard and on the rail.

Andersen comments, “We think we are at the tip of the iceberg as far how this information is used in the future to impact beef supply chain profitability.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Rapid City, S.D. – Although more technological advances are needed to make it a more viable option in the commercial beef business, using sexed semen can benefit commercial beef producers, according to John Hall, University of Idaho beef specialist. 

Hall has conducted research on the use of sexed semen in the commercial beef industry. He has a vested interest in seeing it used at his own research facility to produce replacement heifers. 

“We have Hereford-Angus cross females at the research facility I work at, and producers come in and want to breed all sorts of things to them,” he explained during his presentation at the Beef Range Cow Symposium. “The question became how could we retain our Hereford-Angus cow base, using all these different genetics for research purposes. It became clear that using sexed semen to produce replacement females may be the answer.”

Basic facts

Since then, Hall has learned a lot about using sexed semen in beef cows. 

When sexed semen was first introduced in the beef industry, its success rate was only 35 to 40 percent. However, as technology advances and better sorting methods are developed, it now averages 55 to 65 percent. 

“This is technology that is useful and will probably stay around, but it is technology that has some risk involved with it, at this time,” he explained.

In fact, a new technique for sorting semen was used for the first time last year, Hall said. It is estimated it will increase conception about five percent over what it was.

Sexed semen has been used in the dairy industry for some time, with thousands of successful conceptions. Hall said in dairy heifers, the conception rate is about 50 percent, but it is considerably lower in post-partum, lactating dairy cows. 

Working commercially

Based on that, Hall decided to see how it would work in a beef cow. 

“Early on, we were told not to use sexed semen in lactating beef cows. But, it seems like a lactating beef cow with a good body condition score, who is 40 days post-partum, is probably about as fertile an animal as producers would have on a farm,” he said. 

Hall compared that to a heifer he really likes but doesn’t know what her track record will be. 

“The cow has already bred a few times, so we know she is pretty fertile,” he comments.


In a three-year study, Hall investigated whether or not sexed semen could be used on a limited number of cows to produce replacement females. During this study, he used fixed time AI with sexed semen, bred to one sire and averaged a 50 percent pregnancy rate. 

“We thought we did pretty well when we looked at similar studies that only showed about 33 percent,” he said. “From that research, we think sexed semen can be used in beef cows if they are good candidates for artificial insemination (AI) to start with.”

Success factors

Hall mentioned several factors that can contribute to successful sexed semen AI. 

“Find animals that are in heat or breed animals that have been in heat prior to fixed time AI or for at least 12 hours after they shows estrus,” he recommended. 

The beef specialist added it is important to use some type of estrus detection if sexed semen will be used. 

“Breed the cows that come into heat or come into heat prior to fixed time AI with sexed semen. Then use conventional semen on the rest of the cows,” he explained. 

This method is based on a study conducted by the University of Nebraska.

Failed methods

Mass insemination doesn’t work well, Hall continued. 

“When semen goes through the sorting process, it gets treated really roughly. It gets damaged and incapacitated, and it is already starting through the biochemical process that it needs to fertilize an egg. It reduces the lifespan of the semen within the female reproductive tract,” he explained. 

Because of this, there can be a large range of variation in pregnancy rates with sexed semen. 

“Some bulls will just sort better than others. One bull may have 50 percent conception, and another may be 17 percent,” he said.

In the future, the fertility of sexed semen will improve, Hall said. Research is already underway to find ways to decrease sorting damage, develop synchronization systems and improve bull selection. 

“Sexed semen will not ruin the industry,” Hall said. “It is a technology whose time has come in the beef industry. However, producers need to understand the risks and limitations.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Economic benefits

Using sexed semen can be economically advantageous in the commercial beef industry, according to John Hall, Extension beef specialist with the University of Idaho. 

Hall said producers can use sexed semen to develop a maternal line of cows to cross with a terminal sire. 

During the last 10 years, the size of steers and their carcass weights have increased. Cow size has also increased dramatically. 

“Competing meat species have developed maternal lines and use those with terminal sires to get a better, higher yielding product. They have found it is a more efficient return on their investment,” he explained. 

Hall said at his research facility in Idaho, they have chosen a group of elite maternal cows from the herd and bred those to maternal sires using sexed semen after fixed time artificial insemination (AI). They follow this process up with natural service to a maternal sire. 

“We are getting about 66 to 70 heifers out of this group,” he said. 

If a producer has 300 cows and saves 15 percent of his replacement heifers, he would need to breed about 100 cows to a maternal sire to get 45 replacement heifers. 

“If we mate these cows to maternal bulls, then we will also have 45 steers that may not perform as well as those from a terminal sire,” Hall explained. “If we go with sexed semen, we would only need 25 percent of the herd to produce those same replacement heifers.”

Another advantage of using sexed semen in a commercial operation is the ability to select for the Y semen and produce more steer calves that could be sold for a premium. 

In smaller operations of only 100 to 150 cows, producers can’t produce enough calves of one sex to fill a semi. 

As an example, Hall discussed a neighbor who sold 35 steers for $160 per hundredweight and 35 heifers for $150 per hundredweight. Hall determined if the neighbors could have sold all steers, he would have netted $5,000 more. 

Hall then compared this to another neighbor who sold the same day but had a full load of steers and earned $163 per hundredweight. 

Basically, Hall determined the first neighbor was being docked not only for selling heifers but also because he had a mixed semi load of calves. 

“If he would have had a full semi load and all steers, he would have made an additional $6,700,” Hall stated.

Economic Benefits of Sexed Semen


Steers/ Heifers (hd)

Wt. (lbs.)

Price ($/cwt)


All Steer Impact








Whole load






Whole load






Dollar value -- Selling a full semi load of steers, rather than a mixed load of steers and heifer, can lead to real economic benefits of more than $5,000 per load, according to University of Idaho Extension Beef Specialist John Hall. 


Columbus, Mont. – In 53 years, the folks at Midland Bull Test have evaluated over 10,000 bulls and replacement females across 26 efficiency trials with the objective of determining the differences between sires to benefit ranchers across the country. 

Started in 1962 by Leo and Donna, Midland Bull Test has grown, and Steve and Lindsay Williams who run the operation now say, “It has grown thanks to the dedication, trust and support of our customers.”

“We are proud of the bulls we get to develop and the consignors with who we get the privilege of working with,” the Williams’ continue.

This year’s Midland Bull Test Sale is scheduled for April 1-3, with three full days of socials, sales and speakers. Eight breeds of cattle – Angus, Red Angus, South Devon, Salers, Simmental, Gelbvieh, Hereford and Murray Grey – will sell over the week. 

“With so much change coming at us all so fast, it’s reassuring that some things remain the same,” the Williams’ mention. “Ranchers will find that same feeling of timelessness at Midland Bull Test where they’ll find an unparalleled collection of bulls all developed in the most positive, sound environment tonight.”

More information on the sale and all of the bulls consigned is available at

Final results in our 2015 Midland Bull Test special edition!