At the January board meeting at NWSS, NALF’s genetic consultant Dr. Bob Weaber made the profound statement that the US beef industry is driven by seedstock producers’ selection of bulls at weaning. These bulls make up the basis for the commercial industry’s bull selection options and have an effect on the entire industry for generations. I’ve castrated a lot of calves and never really put into perspective the ripple effect of that decision. The decisions I made could determine how much beef is available to feed the world.
I always tried to live by the old adage, “to make the great ones, the knife must be sharp.” Or in other words, to make the best cattle possible we have to be ultra-selective when deciding who enters the breeding population. Or if you’re a steer jock, we have to cut a really good bull to win the majors.
As someone who grew up selling commercial cattle, I always realized that those who were highly selective in the bulls they used had the upper hand when it came time to sell because of the quality of their product. But I’ve also been in the situation of a seedstock producer, selecting the bulls at weaning to feed out to make commercial bulls. It is hard to cut bulls you know you can sell. I also get to see a lot of bulls in my travels that go on to produce lots of feedlot calves. My point, though it might be unpopular, is that many seedstock producers leave too many calves as bulls.
Because they are our product and we can sell them doesn’t mean they are the right kind. I understand that it is easy for me to say that since my current position doesn’t depend on selling bulls to make a living. But truly I believe that makes me an impartial party. I have little to gain from saying that there are many bulls out there that should be in a feedlot.
Breed associations and the extension services share a part of the blame. We have spent decades talking about EPDs and their usefulness as a selection tool. But they are just that, a tool. They are not the only tool available and they cannot quantify everything in cattle selection. To make the best cattle we have to use all the tools available and part of that is our eyes. If cattle aren’t sound, easy fleshing, or the right size for their environment then they shouldn’t have an influence on subsequent generations.
Case in point, last week I wrote highly of the NWSS and the quality of cattle on the top end and their uniformity. But I also saw a disturbingly large number of cattle that were just plain unsound. I’m not picking on individual breeds or breeders. We have moved forward by incredible leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, just look at pictures from the early 1990s.
But as we move forward with a growing world population in need of protein we must use all the tools available to maximize our efficiency. The hardest one to teach, learn and use is phenotypic evaluation. I hope that our agricultural youth will take their judging coaches to heart, and listen to the reasons of good judges to help hone their skills and continue to move the industry forward. That way America remains the breadbasket of the world and we can feed the generations of tomorrow.
Now, can someone please come help me carry my soapbox?