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2018 Midland

Megan Rolf of Kansas State University says genetic tests can provide producers with additional information when selecting bulls to improve the likelihood of achieving their desired results. 

Many people think of genomic testing in terms of testing for quantitative, production traits. 

“When we do that, we’re usually talking about marker panels that include SNP markers, or SNP chips,” Rolf says. “Basically, a SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) is a single base change in the DNA.” 

Essentially, she says a SNP is a single “typo” in the DNA. 

“These tests have a lot of application for both commercial and genetic producers,” she comments. “The other thing we can use this type of market for is parentage testing, and there’s a lot of value available.”

Other tests looks for causal mutation, which is a mutation that causes a particular  outcome. 

“For this type of testing, we’re probably talking about things like red versus black coat color or a genetic abnormality,” she comments.

Production traits

“When we talk about testing for genetic production traits, these are generally going to be higher density SNP chips when we’re talking about the seedstock industry,” Rolf explains. 

DNA is collected as a blood sample or hair follicle. 

“The importance of this step is sometimes understated. It’s really important we get a high quality sample, and seedstock producers need to make sure they follow the breed association’s guidelines for the submission of these samples,” she adds.

Rolf continues, “The other really important process is these genotypes get incorporated into the breed association’s national cattle evaluation. That information is included into expected progeny difference (EPD) predictions, as well, to get a genomic-enhanced EPD.”

Particularly for younger animals, EPD accuracy is increased based on the added information.

“This information can be utilized as a marketing tool, but what genetic testing is designed to do is to enhance our ability to make genetic improvement,” Rolf comments. “We can use the data to make selection decisions to make genetic progress more rapidly.” 

For example, the dairy industry has achieved substantial increases in genetic gain in their net merit index and in the swine industry, about a 35 percent increase in genetic gain for the PIC index. 

How it works

Briefly, Rolf explains the information can be used in two ways.

“The first way is to estimate the effects of causal mutations or QTN,” she says. 

SNP markers, which are fairly well distributed across the genome, can be utilized  to identify what is going on specific segments of the genome.

“This provides information on causal mutations,” Rolf explains. “The other way we can use this information is in defining relationships between animals.”

She continues, “What drives traditional genetic evaluation are the pedigree relationships between animals. That is why maintaining the integrity of the pedigree is so important.” 

In her master’s degree project, Rolf looked at relationships based on pedigree information that was available. In a parallel study, they estimated the same information based on SNP evaluation. 

“There were a lot of points where the pedigree data did not match the genomic data,” she comments. 

Use of genomic tests

The gold-standard of genetic testing is a high-accuracy, genomic EPD from a proven bull that has lots of data to back up the EPD prediction.

“Unfortunately, though, when we buy a yearling bull, we’ve got a low-accuracy EPD,” Rolf comments. “It’s useful, and it’s the best estimate that we have with all of the information we have available. However, it’s not much.”

If a genomic test is available, the information is useful, but there are holes present.

“A genomic test doesn’t necessarily explain every bit of genomic variation in that animal,” she explains. “The ideal thing we can do is add them together to get a higher accuracy EPD.”

As additional data is collected, higher accuracy is achieved. 

Commercial cattle

“One of the obvious ways commercial cattlemen can capitalize on genomic data is by taking advantage of seedstock suppliers who have invested the time and effort into generating the genomic-enhanced EPDs for customers,” Rolf says, noting that producers must decide what the genomic information is worth.”

Rolf suggests separating purchasing decisions into several categories. 

“First are the traits that are absolutely critical for the operation,” she says. “For example, if we choose a bull to breed to heifers, it is critical that we have a reasonable value for calving ease direct (CED).” 

In a specific example, a young bull and proven sire may have the same EPD for CED, but the accuracy is where the information differs.

“Basically the accuracy tells us the confidence we have in that number and how much it might change over time,” Rolf comments. “For a highly proven sire, we can look up possibly change values in any breed sire summary information, and it can help us form a 68 percent confidence interval around the EPD.” 

Specifically, the EPD plus or minus the change value, creates a 68 percent confidence interval for the EPD, which is a really narrow range. 

“On the younger herd sire, we have a much wider range,” she says. “The EPD accuracy helps us manage the risk that we have in that selection division.” 

For the young sire, a genomic test can increase the confidence producers have in a particular bull’s EPDs. 

Rolf emphasizes, “That confidence has value.” 

Saige Albert is managing editor of 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..

The Red Angus bulls tested at Midland Bull Test in 2018 brought unmatchable quality. Split into two groups, the Green Tag Red Angus represent those animals with an actual birthweight under 85 pounds and birthweight EPD under -1.1, while the Yellow Tag cattle are those with an actual birthweight over 84 pounds and a birthweight EPD over -1.1.

The average for Red Angus bulls was an average daily gain (ADG) of 3.08 and weight per day of age (WDA) of 2.62. Leaders in each group are listed below. 

The Red Angus bulls sell first on April 5, with the sale beginning at 11 a.m., and are represented by lots 750 through 812.

Green Tag ADG leaders

Lot 777, from Gibson Cattle Co. in Rome, Ga., led the Green Tag Red Angus cattle, with a final ADG of 4.05 and ADG ratio of 131. Sired by GG Epic Elvis B24, he has a WDA of 3.1 and EPDs of BW -4.0, WW 49, YW 78, M 22, RFI -1.70, Eff 117 and MBT 114. 

Next, from C-Bar Ranch in Brownell, Kan., was lot 770, with a final ADG of 3.66 and ADG ratio of 118. The son of Andras New Direction R240 also has a WDA of 3.28 and EPDs of BW -1.1, WW 63, YW 109, M 15, RFI 0.11, Eff 111 and MBT 110. 

A final ADG of 3.64 and ADG ratio of 117 led lot 752 to the third high spot in the ADG race. Consigned by Cloud 9 Cattle Co., LLC in Emerald Road, Wisc., the son of RRA Aviator 502 has EPDs of BW -3.6, WW 65, YW 109, M 28, RFI 1.70, Eff 107 and MBT 111. 

In third, lot 801 took the fourth spot with a final ADG of 3.62 and ADG ratio of 117. Sired by Feddes Silver Bow B226, he has a WDA of 3.49 and was consigned by Smieja Red Angus of Belgrade, Mont. Lot 801 also has EPDs of BW -2.2, WW 73, YW 116, M 24, RFI 0.24, Eff 109 and MBT 109. 

Cloud 9 Cattle Co., LLC of Emerald Road, Wisc. also consigned the fifth-high ADG bull in the Green Tag Group. Lot 751, sired by RRA Aviator 502, who has a final ADG of 3.58 and ADG ratio of 115. He also has a WDA of 3.25 and EPDs of BW -3.5, WW 62, YW 103, M 24, RFI -6.28, Eff 143 and MBT 117.

Yellow Tag ADG leaders

Kicking the Yellow Tag Red Angus off for ADG is lot 789, a consignment from Mitchell Red Angus in Lebanon, Ore., with a final ADG of 4.07 and ADG ratio of 133. He was sired by Dyk Hatch RT83W-5102, has a WDA of 3.61 and EPDs of BW-0.9, WW 60, YW 88, M 25, RFI 0.15, Eff 105 and MBT 114.

Next, lot 776 came next, from C-Bar Ranch in Brownell, Kan., with a final ADG of 3.87 and ADG ratio of 127. The son of EF Commando 1366 also has a WDA of 3.07 and EPDs of BW -4.0, WW 67, YW 113, M 23, RFI -3.55, Eff 126 and MBT 113.

Lot 764, a son of SL Defender 560-30Z, has a final ADG of 3.6 and ADG ratio at 118. Also from C-Bar Ranch in Brownell, Kan., he has a WDA of 2.96 and EPDs of BW -4.0, WW 61, YW 96, M 14, RFI -1.81, Eff 118 and MBT 108. 

C-Bar Ranch of Brownell, Kan. also consigned the fourth-high ADG bull in the Yellow Tag Group, lot 760, with a final ADG of 3.53 and ADG ratio of 116. He also has a WDA of 2.94 and EPDs of RFI 1.68, Eff 99 and MBT 104. 

A tie for fifth and sixth came from lots 792 and 780, who both has a final ADG of 3.41 and ADG ratio of 112. 

Lot 792, a consignment from Daigger-Orr Red Angus in North Platte, Neb., he was sired by Brown JYJ Redemption Y1134, has a WDA of 2.94 and EPDs of BW -3.7, WW 65, YW 108, M 30, RFI 1.28, Eff 105 and MBT 105. 

Gibson Cattle Co. of Rome, Ga. consigned lot 780. The son of Gibson Epic 397K-A305 has a WDA of 2.88 and EPDs of BW -3.4, WW 63, YW 98, M 20, RFI 0.90, Eff 103 and MBT 104. 

Green Tag WDA leaders

Lot 752 from Cloud 9 Cattle Co., LLC in Emerald Road, Wisc. took the top spot for WDA in the Red Angus Green Tag bulls with a WDA of 3.49. The son of RRA Aviator 502 also has a final ADG of 3.64, ADG ratio of 117 and EPDs of BW -3.6, WW 65, YW 109, M 28, RFI 1.70, Eff 107 and MBT 111.

Next lot 770 from C-Bar Ranch of Brownell, Kan. Posted a WDA of 3.28. This Andras New Direction R240 son also has EPDs of BW -1.1, WW 63, YW 109, M 15, RFI 0.11, Eff 111 and MBT 110, a final ADG of 3.66 and ADG ratio of 118. 

Cloud 9 Cattle Co. of Emerald Road, Wisc. followed with another consignment, lot 751, hitting a WDA of 3.25. The RRA Aviator 502 son also showed a final ADG of 3.58, ADG ratio of 115 and EPDs of BW -3.5, WW 62, YW 103, M 24, RFI -6.28, Eff 143 and MBT 117.

In fourth, Mitchell Red Angus of Lebanon, Ore. Brought lot 791, a son of Dyk Hatch RT83W-5102, with a WDA of 3.24. His EPDs are BW -1.4, WW 67, YW 102, M 21, RFI -3.81, Eff 119 and MBT 111.

Finally, C-Bar Ranch’s lot 761 took the last slot in the WDA leaderboard, with a WDA of 3.14. With a final ADG of 3.05 and ADG ratio of 98, the HXC Allegiance 5502C son also has EPDs of BW -2.4, WW 64, YW 105, M 25, RFI 0.75, Eff 101 and MBT 100. 

Yellow Tag WDA leaders

For WDA, Mitchell Red Angus of Lebanon, Ore. consigned the top two bulls in the category, with lots 789 and 790, who were both sired by Dyk Hatch RT83W-5102.

Lot 789 topped the group with a WDA of 3.61, and also has a final ADG of 4.07, ADG ratio of 133 and EPDs of BW-0.9, WW 60, YW 88, M 25, RFI 0.15, Eff 105 and MBT 114.

Lot 790, with EPDs of BW -0.5, WW 65, YW 93, M 24, RFI 4.28, Eff 74 and MBT 100, he has a WDA of 3.36, final ADG of 3.3 and ADG ratio of 108. 

In third, lot 798 from Six L East in Groton, S.D. has a WDA of 3.18. The son of 5L Independence  560-298Y also has a final ADG of 2.75, ADG ratio of 90 and EPDs of BW -2.4, WW 56, YW 89, M 23, RFI -2.01, Eff 105 and MBT 102. 

C-Bar Ranch of Brownell, Kan. consigned the fourth and fifth placing lots for WDA, with lots 755 and 759. 

Lot 755 has a WDA of 3.11 and was sired by Spur Franchise of Garton. His final ADG was 3.37, and he has an ADG ratio of 110. He also posted EPDs of BW -1.5 WW 62, YW 108, M 21, RFI -0.31, Eff 104 and MBT 102. 

Lot 759 has a WDA of 3.09, final ADG of 3.15 and ADG ratio of 103. His EPDs are RFI -0.11, Eff 107 and MBT 103. 

Sire groups

Gibson Cattle Co. of Rome, Ga. took the honors of having the top sire group for ADG, with a group of bulls sired by GG Epic Elvis. 

Lot 777 has an ADG of 4.07 and EPDs of BW -4.0, WW 49, YW 78, M 22, RFI -1.70, Eff 117 and MBT 114.

Next, lot 782 has an ADG of 3.3 and EPDs of BW -1.0, WW 66, YW 102, M 21, RFI -0.86, Eff 113 and MBT 109. 

Finally, lot 783 has an ADG of 3.36, coupled with EPDs of BW -0.9, WW 72, YW 112, M 17, RFI -0.37, Eff 105 and MBT 109. 

For the WDA leading sire group, Dyk Hatch RT83W-5102’s sons from Mitchell Red Angus of Lebanon, Ore. brought the highest scores, with WDAs of 3.61, 3.36 and 3.24 for lots 789, 790 and 791, respectively. 

Lot 789 has EPDs of BW -0.9, WW 60, YW 88, M 25, RFI 0.15, Eff 105 and MBT 114.

Also, lot 790 showed EPDs of BW -0.5, WW 65, YW 92, M 24, RFI 4.28, Eff 74 and MBT 100, and lot 791 has EPDs of BW -1.4, WW 67, YW 102, M 21, RFI -3.81, Eff 119 and MBT 111. 

The World Champion Red Angus Pen of Three came from C-Bar Ranch in Brownell Kan. Lots 770, 776 and 764 were the top bulls of the breed. 

Lot 770 posted a final ADG of 3.66, ADG ratio of 118 and WDA of 3.28. The son of Andras New Direction R240 has EPDs of BW -1.1, WW 63, YW 109, M 15, RFI 0.11, Eff 111 and MBT 110.

The EFF Commando 1366 son, Lot 776, has an ADG of 3.87, WDA of 3.07 and EPDs of BW -4.0, WW 67, YW 113, M 23, RFI -3.55, Eff 126 and MBT 113.

Finally, lot 764, a SL Defender 560-30Z son, has an ADG of 3.6, WDA of 2.96 and EPDs of BW -4.0, WW 61, YW 96, M 14, RFI -1.81, Eff 118 and MBT 108.

Look for the Red Angus bulls on pages 97-102 in the Midland Bull Test Catalog. Visit midlandbulltest.com for complete results.

Lots 900 through 961 at Midland Bull Test represented an outstanding class of Salers bulls, split into two groups based on their purebred status. Those bulls 75 percent purebred and great were represented by the Green Tag category, and those with less than 75 percent purebred Salers genetics were put in the Purple Tag category. 

The Salers bulls will sell on April 5, following the Herefords, and the top-performing bulls, along with their data, is provided below. 

Green Tag ADG leaders

Lot 932, consigned by Elk Creek Ranch in Hebron, N.D. and sired by Big Sky Revelation 40B, has a final ADG of 3.81 and ADG ratio of 117. The bull also has EPDs of BW 2.7, WW 65, YW 104, M 26, RFI -1.56, Eff 105 and MBT 113. 

Next, lot 956 has a final ADG of 3.75 and ADG ratio of 116. The son of Bodines Andrew C376 was consigned by Bodine’s 9th Ave Cattle Company of Voltaire, N.D. has a WDA of 3.31 and EPDs of BW 4.5, BW 64, YW 117, M 25, RFI 0.77, Eff 99 and MBT 108. 

Bodine’s 9th Ave Cattle Company also consigned the third and fourth placing bulls in the category, lots 959 and 952, respectively, which were both sired by Keys Rockstar 95X. 

Lot 959 has a final ADG of 3.6 and ADG ratio of 111, as well as a WDA of 3.11 and EPDs of BW 3.4, WW 54, YW 96, M 19, RFI 0.46, Eff 103 and MBT 105.

Lot 952 has a final ADG of 3.57 and ADG ratio of 111, as well as EPDs of BW 4.7, WW 54, YW 95, M 25, RFI 3.26, Eff 95 and MBT 103, and a WDA of 3.09.

Rounding out the top five, Ahtanum Valley Salers of Yakima, Wash. consigned lot 900, which posted a final ADG of 3.53 and ADG ratio of 109. The son of Mac Crosstrain 46C has EPDs of BW 2.1, WW 47, YW 93, M 26, RFI -2.01, Eff 109 and MBT 107. 

Purple Tag ADG leaders

Elm Creek Ranch of Hebron, Neb. also has the top-performing bull in the Purple Tag ADG group, with lot 943. The bull posted a final ADG of 4.18 and ADG ratio 125, as well as a WDA of 3.65. His EPDs are BW 2.0, WW 60, YW 113, M 16, RFI 2.43, Eff 102 and MDT 112. He was sired by ECR Carlos 500C of 48A. 

Next, a consignment from Bodine’s 9th Ave Cattle Company from Voltaire, N.D, lot 960, took second high ADG with a final ADG of 4.09, ADG ratio of 122 and WDA of 3.5. The son of Keys Rockstar 95X has EPDs of BW 4.6, WW 66, YW 112, M 18, RFI -1.54, Eff 109 and MBT 113. 

Another Elm Creek Ranch consignment, lot 946, has a final ADG of 3.84 and ADG ratio. He is a son of Eathington Sub-Zero, has a WDA of 3.38 and EPDs of BW -1.1, WW 64, YW 108, M 22, RFI 1.17, Eff 97 and MBT 109. 

Lot 906 from Ahtanum Valley Salers in Yakima, Wash. tied for fourth and fifth place with Elk Creek Ranch’s lot 942. Both bulls has a final ADG of 3.75 and an ADG ratio of 112. 

Lot 906 has EPDs of BW 0.7, WW 45, YW 90, M 20, RFI 1.26, Eff 105 and MBT 106. The son of CTS Remedy 1T01 also has a WDA of 3.19.

Lot 942 is a son of Vision Unanimous 1418, a WDA 3.46 and EPDs of BW 2.4, WW 60, YW 112, M 19, RFI 0.24, Eff 103 and MBT 109. 

Green Tag WDA leaders

Lot 932 from Elm Creek Ranch in Hebron, N.D. also posted the category-high WDA of 3.52. He also posted a final ADG of 3.81, ADG ratio of 117 and was sired by Big Sky Revelation 40B. He has EPDs of BW 2.7, WW 65, YW 104, M 26, RFI -1.65, Eff 105 and MBT 113. 

Next lot 938, also from Elm Creek Ranch in Hebron, N.D. The bull is a son of ECR Cosmo 512 C of 3A is has a WDA of 3.45, as well as a final ADG of 3.29 and ADG ratio of 101. The bull also has EPDs of BW 3.3, WW 57, YW 101, M 22, RFI -1.32, Eff 99 and MBT 106. 

Bodine’s 9th Ave Cattle Company of Voltaire, N.D. consigned lot 956, which posted a third-high WDA of 3.31. The son of Bodines Andrew C376 also has a final ADG of 3.75 and ADG ratio of 116, as well as EPDs of BW 4.5, WW 64, YW 117, M 25, RFI 0.77, Eff 99 and MBT 108. 

Lot 900, a consignment from Ahtanum Valley Salers of Yakima, Wash., tied for fourth and fifth with a WDA of 3.26. Lot 937 from Elk Creek Ranch in Hebron, N.D. also had the same WDA.

Lot 900 was consigned by Mac Crosstrain 46C, has a final ADG of 3.53 and ADG ratio of 109. His EPDs are BW 2.1, WW 47, YW 93, M 26, RFI -2.01, Eff 109 and MBT. 

Lot 937 has a final ADG of 3.39 and ADG ratio of 104. He has EPDs of BW 2.2, WW 51, YW 93, M 21, RFI 1.54, Eff 91 and MBT 102 and was sired by ECR Cosmo 512 C of 3A.

Purple Tag WDA leaders

The top four placing bulls in the Purple Tag WDA group were consigned by Elm Creek Ranch of Hebron, N.D. 

Starting the category was lot 943 with a WDA of 3.65. The bull, a son of ECR Carlos 500s of 48A, has a final ADG of 4.18, an ADG ratio of 125 and EPDs of BW 2.0, WW 60, YW 113, M 16, RFI 2.43, Eff 102 and MDT 112.

A son of AVS Out West 210X posted a WDA of 3.56, earning him second in the category. Lot 935 has a final ADG of 3.73, ADG ratio of 111 and EPDs of BW-0.1, WW 53, YW 100, M 14, RFI 2.23, Eff 90 and MBT 104.

Lot 945 came next with a WDA of 3.54, final ADG of 3.28 and ADG ratio of 98. He has EPDs of BW 0.6, WW 64, YW 119, M 22, RFI 1.39, Eff 102 and MBT 106. He is a son of Connealy Capitalist 028. 

Next, lot 934, an AVS Out West son, has a WDA of 3.51, along with a final ADG of 3.26 and ADG ratio of 98. He has EPDs of BW 1.4, WW 61, YW 114, M 20, RFI 2.18, Eff 95 and MBT 103. 

Rounding out the category, lot 960 is a Keys Rockstar 95X son from Bodine’s 9th Ave Cattle Company of Voltaire, N.D., with a WDA of 3.5. He has EPDs of BW 4.6, WW 66, YW 112, M 18, RFI -1.54, Eff 109 and MBT 113, a final ADG of 4.09 and ADG ratio of 122. 

World Champion Pen of Three 

The World Champion Pen of Three Salers comes from Elm Creek Ranch in Hebron, N.D. Lots 943, 932 and 035 have an ADG of 4.18, 3.81 and 3.73, respectively, and WDA of 3.65, 3.52 and 3.56, respectively.

Lot 943 is a son of ECR Carlos 500C of 48A and has EPDs of BW 2.0, WW 60, YW 113, M 16, RFI 2.43, Eff 102 and MBT 112. 

Lot 932, sired by Big Sky Revelation 40B, has EPDs of BW 2.7, WW 65, YW 104, M 26, RFI -1.65, Eff 105 and MBT 113, and a son of AVS Out West 210X, lot 935 has EPDs of BW-0.1, WW 53, YW 100, M 14, RFI 2.23, Eff 90 and MBT 104.

Look for the Salers bulls on pages 112-118 in the Midland Bull Test Catalog. Full results are available at midlandbulltest.com. 

“We’re where the rubber meets the road,” Barb Downey of Downey Ranch says, noting she and her husband run a cow/calf operation near Wamego, Kan.

Their spring calving operation runs 550 females, of which about 150 are registered. 

“We run a range-type program,” she continues. “Our cows are out year-round grazing dormant range, stock-piled forages and improved forages.”

The family works diligently to run a low-input herd, utilizing artificial insemination (AI) and year-round on-range grazing.

Downey notes reproductive technologies are important to their operation.

“We use AI pretty extensively now,” she says. “We have also used more and more estrus synchronization, and everything we breed is synchronized now.”

Heifers are synchronized using an MGA program. They are heat-detected and cleaned up using timed AI. Cows are bred using exclusively timed AI. 

“We have also used sexed semen, particularly during the expansion phase,” Downey continues. “We also use ultrasound.” 

Embryo transfer is utilized only in their seedstock herd, and Downey adds, “We also do some fun things with management that I say help our technology go further and do better for us.” 

From the beginning

For Downey Ranch, synchronizing heifers was the “low-hanging fruit,” says Downey. “It was easy to do from the beginning.”

Cows were AI’ed on natural heats for many years, but as the operation expanded, the process became infeasible. 

“As we got bigger, we just couldn’t do it. We started syncing some of our mature cows in the late 2000s,” she explains. “Starting in 2011, we started syncing everything. The AI date is 45 days or greater post-partum.”

Time table

In 2017, May 11 was the breeding date for Downey Ranch. Their first calf heifers were AI’ed on May 15. 

“We keep our first-calf heifers separate to make sure they’re getting proper attention,” she says.

Downey adds, “We also AI commercial and registered cattle separately to keep manageable size groups.”

The registered cattle were AI’ed May 22 and finished with their commercial and recipient  cows on May 26. Embryo transfer occurred on June 2. 

“May is chaos at the ranch,” she says. “Why do we spend all this time and put ourselves through hell in May? The benefits of AI and synchronization tested by researchers are real, obvious and proven.”

Proven semen

Downey adds proven conception rate semen is huge.

“Fertility is everything to our bottom line. If we can tick that up a little bit more and use a good settler, it makes a huge difference.” 

If synchronized cows are in heat on day one coupled with high conception rate semen, the commercial F1 base herd remains intact.

“Then we can deliberately plan our matings. If I’ve got a reproductively sound cow, there is no way I am going to cull her because her calf hung up a select carcass,” Downey says. “I’ll take a calf every time, but I can maybe dink with the EPD program we use.”

“Then, at that point in time, we’ve already naturally selected for the females – both F1 and straight bred – that are most fertile in the system. It’s a nice way to do that and cut the bull battery about in half, which is not inconsequential.”

Synchronizing

Synchronizing independent of AI has also been hugely important, says Downey.

“Calves born in the first 25 days of our calving season have increased since we’ve been synchronizing all the calves and not just some of them,” she says. 

Since implementing a synchronization program in 2011 for the vast majority of their cowherd, Downey Ranch has been able to increase the percentage of cow calving in the first 25 days of the calving season. Today, 77.8 percent of the herd calves in the first 25 days, which is an increase in 12 percent over initial values. 

“When we moved to synchronizing all our cows, the days to have a calf also decreased,” she says. 

At the same time, they eliminate labor from heat detecting cows, and the post-partum time for the cow is increased. If she calves on day one of the calving season, their cows have 82 days before breeding, increasing their chance of early breeding. 

Sexed semen

Downey Ranch sells bred heifers annually in their sale, and they have developed a strong market for bred heifers.

“We purchase sexed semen, and we sexed a Hereford bull that we really like the F1 baldy females from,” she explains.

Starting in 2011, they began to watch the market and sold increased numbers of females from 2013 to 2015, averaging $3,300 on the heifers. 

Downey adds, “We were so lucky. At the same time, our fat cattle were $1,875.”

“Last year we got a little more realistic at $2,000 per bred heifer,” she continues. “When we look at all of our costs, heifers paid us $684 more than the steer calves. For us, the sexed semen was definitely worth it.”

Ultrasound

Downey also utilizes a portable ultrasound machine on the ranch. 

Prior to 2014, she notes they hired someone to ultrasound our heifers for $1,000.

“In 2014, we made a sizable investment and purchased a unit for $4,800,” she comments. “In five years, I paid my share of the ultrasound just by not having someone come in and do it for me.”

However, Downey adds the bigger financial gain has come in strategic marketing.

“Ever fall, open cow prices go down the drain,” she says. “Open cows are a sizable income option for any commercial ranch. If I can sell them when they are worth more – not in the fall – and when their body condition is better, we can make money.” 

“We’re able to also sort our heifers with the ultrasound machine, keeping our first-service AI heifers and marketing the rest,” Downey adds. “If we’re just preg checking and not aging the calves, it’s fast, too, with no wear and tear on my hand.” 

On a good day, Downey says she could only check about 100 heifers before her hand was tired. Now, they are able to preg check at 30 days. 

“We can still keep our 60-day calving window intact, too,” she adds.

Downey adds,“All of these things have a positive effect that is a little bit better every year.” 

Saige Albert is managing editor of 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..

Heifers that become pregnant within the first 21 days of the breeding season are 80 percent more likely to be in the cowherd nine years later, a University of Nebraska beef specialist tells producers. 

Because pregnancy has four times more impact on the cow than any other production trait, producers should continue to find ways to improve the reproductive efficiency in their cowherds, according to Randy Saner.

Research has shown that heifers bred 22 to 42 days into the breeding season are only 60 percent likely to be in the herd nine years later. 

“Depreciation is significant. We are losing money if we can’t keep cows in the herd long-term,” Saner says.

Early breeding

Getting the heifer bred within the first 21 days of the breeding season will likely improve the herd’s reproductive efficiency. 

Saner shares the results of research using a CIDR (controlled internal drug release) with progesterone in a timed artificial insemination (AI) program. The pregnancy rate of heifers in this program increased from 81 percent to 93 percent. This increase caused a trickle down impact, producing heavier calves at weaning and increasing the value per calf by $169. 

Saner figures, by getting these cows bred earlier, the calves were 50 pounds heavier at weaning. In a 300-head cowherd, this increased the value of the calf crop from $26,000 to $51,000, he says.

Fall-born heifers

Saner shares with producers studies looking into how to increase the value of fall-born heifers. 

“Usually, fall-born heifers selling in the spring are not worth as much as spring-born heifers selling in the fall,” he says. “If we can get them bred before they are two-year-olds, they could be a cheaper source of replacements.”

Research at the University of Nebraska looked at breeding 311-day-old heifers using MGA (melengestrol acetate) or CIDRs. The two methods didn’t produce a lot of difference in estrus response, age of breeding or pregnancy rate, Saner says, but he noted there are cost differences because the CIDRs are more expensive.

The beef specialist thinks these heifers can be developed from weaning to pregnancy diagnosis for around $1,550 a head. 

“It is pretty reasonable to develop them, but producers need to realize they may have a higher number of opens because they are younger,” he says. 

If producers try to breed fall-born heifers, Saner notes the importance of using a calving-ease bull because these heifers will be smaller and have smaller pelvic areas. 

Pregnancy rates

Comparing pregnancy rates using fixed time AI with MGA or CIDRs, a study of 5,000 heifers at Ainsworth, Neb. produced similar results. Overall, pregnancy rates were 93 percent using MGA versus 90 percent with CIDRs. 

However, using MGA can result in savings, since CIDRs are more expensive. 

“MGA is cheaper, but if they won’t eat it, we will have a problem. The benefit of using a CIDR is once it’s in there, we’re set,” Saner says.

Producers can also add value to non-pregnant females by synchronizing them with a seven-day CIDR-PG (prostaglandin) protocol, prior to a 60-day natural service breeding season with a one-to-25 bull-to-cow ratio, Saner continues. 

In a University of Nebraska study, these cows were pregnancy checked by ultrasound 30 days after the bulls were removed, and two weeks later, on March 1, the open cows were sold. 

The pregnant cows were sold two months later, in mid-April, when grass was more readily available. 

“Holding the cows over until spring may increase their value,” Saner explains.

Cow considerations

Producers should also consider a crossbred cow breeding program to increase the longevity of the herd. Saner says a crossbred cow averages 1.3 times longer in the herd, one more calf during her lifetime and weans an additional 600 pounds over a straight-bred cow. 

“At today’s costs, that is about $3,000 more income,” he notes. “As things get tighter, this may be one way to improve profitability.”

Matching cow size to available resources can also improve herd efficiency. 

“Managing cow size is important. As the cow gets bigger, she needs more feed, more protein and more energy. There is nothing wrong with a bigger cow if we have an abundance of grass and corn. However, the bigger cow may be more suitable to a producer in Illinois than in short grass prairie, where our resources are more limited,” Saner says.

Performance

Saner reiterates the importance of reproductive performance, calling it a crucial part of the breeding program. 

“Building a heifer is not cheap. It is important to match cow size to the forage resources we have available. Higher milking cows have higher forage needs and greater maintenance requirements. It takes bigger organs to produce more milk,” he explains.

Saner encourages producers to know their costs and keep good records so they can evaluate changes they make to their operations. 

The key is to improve stocking rates, while decreasing costs and improving revenue, he explains. 

“We might consider things like implementing a rotational grazing program or adding the crossbred cow to improve herd longevity,” he says. “Don’t do things like selecting for excessive growth or milk or chase only post weaning and carcass traits.”

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..