Fall Cattle Journal 2022: iGENDEC –New online tool customizes economic index for producers
The role of seedstock producers is to make genetic advancements and to put them in a package and make it available for commercial producers.
The task of the commercial producer is to select genetics that enhance their goals.
That’s how Dr. Matt Spangler, professor at University of Nebraska, Lincoln and beef genetics specialist, defines the roles in the cattle industry.
In order for both segments to be successful, it’s important to identify those goals, and what it’s going to take to reach those goals.
“The key for the commercial producer is to know as much as they can about their own enterprise, so when they select bulls or semen they are selecting something that helps advance their goals,” Spangler said.
If the goals are centered around profitability, rather than simply pounds or numbers, producers may find the numbers they’ve been chasing aren’t the numbers they should be.
“What’s best for one rancher in terms of genetic profile may not be what’s best for their neighbor,” Spangler said. “You really have to understand where you sit currently and what your goals are for your operation to make informed decisions.”
It’s also important to understand where the industry and the market is today, which isn’t where it was 70 or even 30 years ago.
That’s especially important when choosing breeds to cross for hybrid vigor, fertility and longevity. The preferences and biases of today’s grandfathers aren’t necessarily still accurate.
Some of the changes are visible, like polled versus horned cattle, but Spangler said many breeds have been deliberate, and successful, in breeding high profile negative traits out of their cattle.
“Breeds that were the smallest 30 to 40 years ago are among the largest today. That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it does change how we need to think of them in our breeding systems,” he says.
Beyond breed, Spangler said when it comes to genetic selection, producers need to know if their dollars are being spent where they will do the most good. That $10,000 bull may be a dream come true, but if he doesn’t make $6,000 worth of difference in the cowherd, the producer may be better off with a $4,000 bull. That’s something seedstock producers are aware of, too–that their customers need to stay in business, so the genetics they are producing need to fit in their budget, and business.
Spangler works with both seedstock and commercial producers. Some of the more progressive seedstock producers he works with are starting to print their sale distribution in their sale catalogs, so potential buyers can see the whole picture, not just the top sellers and the sale average. Everyone is impressed by those big-dollar bulls, but producers who can’t afford the top end of the bulls may still be able to access those genetics on a less expensive scale.
In an effort to match the right genetics, at the right price, Spangler worked with a team of researchers and a developer to create iGENDEC, short for internet genetic decisions.. The team includes Spangler, Bob Weaber, Kansas State University; Warren Snelling, Mark Thallman and Larry Kuehn, U.S. Meat Animal Research Center; and Bruce Golden, of Theta Solutions.
The idea behind iGENDEC is to provide a web-based decision support tool that will allow producers to customize an index that they can use to compare the economic impacts of different bulls.
Producers can enter their information into the program, which will generate a custom economic index that producers can use to compare bulls that are in the program, or to run against any bull in any catalog.
The index is more accurate with more information, like cow age distribution, average selling price, breed of bulls, cost to background calves, cow cost, etc., but it can function with as little information as breed, weaning weight and sale price, said Joe Epperly, the seedstock manager at Wagonhammer Ranches in Nebraska, worked with the team to beta test the program.
Wagonhammer has about 1,000 head of registered Angus, Charolai and SimAngus cattle. They run about 1,500 commercial cows, and a 5,000-head feedyard. They rely heavily on data to make decisions, so having a program to aggregate all the data and produce a useful, consistent index is a valuable tool for them, Epperly said.
Epperly is selecting for calving ease and yearling weight, while decreasing mature weight, pushing marbling, but not ribeye size. Those goals are based on their business model of needing low-maintenance cows that easily produce calves that gain quickly until they reach a year old, then level off, giving them options for keeping moderate-sized cows for their herd, but maximizing feeder size.
“If we sold weaned calves, we’d have a different index and different priorities,” Epperly said.
While EPDs offer the information producers are looking for, it’s difficult to find the dollars associated with each trait–even in breeds that offer economic EPDs–and it’s not consistent across breeds. This new tool provides the index as a ratio, which is based on EPDs. “It’s can project what is going to be more profitable longterm, rather than year-to-year,” Epperly said. “It’s easy to input all the information about your operation in a very intuitive form, and gives you a scientific way to select off that and EPDs.”
The program is being house with the Beef Improvement Federation, to make it available to land-grant institutions for educational purposes, breed associations and large seedstock operations. Commercial producers will likely be able to access it through BIF, breed associations, and Extension staff can help get producers connected with it as well. There will be costs associated with the membership, but those haven’t been firmly established yet, and breed associations will be able to offer use of the program as a membership benefit, Spangler said. They expect it to be available in early October of this year.
Epperly said the system is intuitive and easy to use, and once the index is generated, can be used offline, though the process is simplest if seedstock producers or breed associations enter their bulls into the system.
That information may give producers the tools to make valuable changes in their businesses, or may affirm that they’re making the decisions they need to.