From the Fall 2008 issue of the Isa Informer

Performance data critical to herd success

Lorenzo Lasater is BBU Vice President and sits on the Long Range Planning and Commercial Marketing Committees. The following article, written by Lorenzo, appeared in the August 2008 edition of the Beefmaster Cowman.

I was asked to write an article about performance, specifically on our impending Total Herd Reporting program. But I thought it might serve us well to go back to the basics a little bit first.

The Competition

We spend a lot of time complaining about the competition, so let’s take a look at them.

The Red Angus Association was built on a performance-only foundation. If you wish to raise Red Angus, you are required to enroll in THR and turn in data on every calf. They have enjoyed steady growth; registering 42,000 calves last year. Following is item number one from their “Core Principles”:

  • The policy of the (Red Angus) Association is to discourage the more artificial practices in purebred cattle production … and to place its faith instead in objective tests, consisting for the most part of comparisons within herds of factors of known economic importance and known heritability…. By making this an integral part of the registration system, Red Angus breeders feel that even faster progress can be made toward the ultimate goal of more efficient beef production.
  • While I am not sure this fits with “The Beefmaster Way,” you cannot deny that they have staked a credible claim in the Beef Industry. If we think that the Beef Industry is not watching how BBU approaches performance, we are kidding ourselves.
  • Why Does Performance Matter?
  • To compete with other breeds, we must demonstrate Beefmasters’ excellence through performance data.
  • As seedstock producers, we each have a responsibility to examine the relative genetic merit of the cattle we raise.
  • This is a business, and we will receive more income, both in the near and far terms, for cattle with performance behind them.
  • We can only make good breeding decisions if we know where we’ve been and where we hope to go.

Performance in cattle can mean many things; it could be an animal’s ability to gain weight, a cow’s skill at raising a good calf and rebreeding in a 365-day period, or the type of growth traits a semen bull will bring to your herd. Basically, we are looking for ways to measure the genetic potential of cattle to excel in many different traits, and collecting performance data on our cattle allows us to measure where we’ve been and plan for where we’d like to go.

The old saying goes, “We cannot change what we cannot measure.” This is absolutely true in cattle breeding. BBU’s Weights and Measures program provides a critical tool in measuring the performance of our own cattle and the breed as a whole. If you don’t already have one, call BBU today and ask for a Weights and Measures handbook. It has all the background information to help you be successful with your in-herd performance program. If you have a handbook, but haven’t read it in a while, please do so. It really is helpful.

There are some important changes coming in the way BBU handles its performance data, which will improve the ease-of-use of our performance tools and also enhance the quality of our breed-wide database. An important thing to keep in mind is that all of these programs are voluntary. They are there to help you improve your cattle and the breed as a whole. It is up to you to participate, and the breed needs your help!

Total Herd Reporting

THR is an optional program whereby a breeder pays a reduced, flat fee for every breeding cow in the herd. Included in that price is one registration, for her calf, and one transfer, so you can sell either her or the calf.

I hear about some uncertainty surrounding THR. It is important for everyone to understand that the old system will remain in place, so if that fits your business better, please continue doing what you always have.

Currently, a lot of folks are trying to “game” the system by registering fewer calves, for example, only those they sell. This is an understandable reaction to increased registration fees, but it has very detrimental effects for BBU. It hurts revenue, and it also harms the registry purity and does a great deal of damage to the quality of our performance data.

Virtually all of our competition has moved to some form of THR. There are a lot of reasons why it makes sense, but following are a few important advantages to consider:

  • Get an accurate handle on our breed-wide cow inventory.
  • Collect performance data on a greater number of calves.
  • Collect reproduction info on a greater number of cows.
  • Promotes the registration and transfer of more cattle.
  • Our performance-minded breeders will pay more up front, but less overall.
  • BBU will have a predictable income stream.
  • It will be simpler and easier for breeders to submit paperwork.
  • It will be simpler and easier for BBU to process the paperwork.

How Does it Work?

It’s pretty simple really; if you are already doing weights and measures, you are basically doing the same thing.

BBU will mail a current cow inventory to each producer. The breeder will update the report and be charged a low, flat rate for each breeding female.

Breeder will submit a birth and weaning information either together or in two stages. The only required piece of data is a weaning weight or a disposal code. At weaning, the breeder can note which calves were culled, steered or turned commercial. These animals come out of the registry.

The Breeder submits a Yearling Worksheet, which can include yearling weight, scrotal circumference and sonogram data.

What will it cost?

The Charolais Association is fairly similar to BBU in terms of size and structure. Below is a comparison of our rates and theirs. You can see it is fairly similar.

The important difference comes in their THR program, where a cow’s enrollment costs $13. Remember, that includes one registration and one transfer and allows you to enroll the calf up to yearling. Let’s say for example a BBU breeder waits until weaning to register the calf and then sells it. The cost for the certificate is $20 and the transfer is $16 for a total of $36. The same transaction under THR is just $13.

Your committees and board are currently finalizing the fee structure for THR, but the industry basically charges between $13 and $15.

A Few Common Misconceptions

“I only want to turn in performance data on the good ones.” This actually hurts the good ones. Performance data is about averages and the individual’s ratio or position against that average. You want them to be compared to the entire peer group, which actually makes them look better.

“I don’t want to register every offspring.” Though THR allows for the registration of every offspring, this is obviously not the goal. You would cull the bad ones and select the good ones as you always have, safe in the knowledge that all the “keepers” will be registered with BBU.

“What if I don’t have scales?” If you can afford to be in the registered business, you can afford to buy a set of scales. Partner with a neighbor, find a used set–do whatever you have to. One of the greatest thrills in cattle husbandry is when those calves come in at weaning and you have the opportunity to weigh the calves and see how you did for the year.

“I don’t use performance data in my marketing or selection, why should I participate?” If you are not using performance data in your own operation, you are missing a critically important selection component. Furthermore, your customers may need to sell cattle with performance behind them. Most importantly, if our breed is to be relevant, we must display performance to the industry.

“Can I enroll some in THR and some the old way?” You have to choose one way or the other for your business. If you use THR, you enroll 100% of their calves and all their production in the program. You will most likely have the chance to switch to or from THR once each year.

Life is Good

The Six Essentials provides Beefmaster breeders the perfect roadmap by which to raise productive, beautiful, profitable and high-performing cattle. Selection for different traits allows us to push our herd in the direction we wish, but we must always strive for balance. It is critically important that we never get caught up in the trap of single-trait selection.

We are blessed to be a part of the greatest breed of cattle there is. Let’s work together to ensure that Beefmasters remain a relevant beef breed and BBU a strong organization for generations to come.

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