Getting the whole story
January 11, 2019
Commercial cattle producers may wonder how accurate the EPDs in the latest bull catalog are. Ranchers realize that the information is only as useful and true as the honesty of the seedstock producer recording it.
Kelli Retallick with the American Angus Association works with a program to help improve the overall integrity of the breed's EPDs.
MaternalPlus is a whole herd reporting program wherein the seedstock producer must report what happens to every cow every year.
"It's not anything fancy, just a complement to the reporting they are already doing," Retallick said.
“If we are getting a huge line or individual animals that are leaving early because they are open maybe there is a genetic tie there to fertility or cow survivability. That’s where this program is focused
— the whole herd approach rather than individual traits like weaning weights.” Kelli Retallick, Angus Genetics Inc. genetic service director
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The program's overseer said her organization gets about 330,000 weaning weights every year, but with for more cows than that registered, some would wonder what happened to those other calves, as well as the cows. Currently if a cow is sold or culled, the seedstock producer may or may not provide this information to the association. The group believes that detailed information about every cow, and why she exited the herd, will help paint a better picture of the direction the breed is going as a whole.
"We want to know how long these cows are staying in the herd. When are they leaving and why?" Retallick said.
Richard Tokach of Tokach Angus Ranch, Bismarck, N.D., said his outfit was one of the first to enroll in the program when it first became available in 2014.
"It was a little cumbersone at first, but they've upgraded computer program," he said.
Cleaning up his existing cows in the database that needed to be removed because they had been sold or died, or moved to commercial use, was the most challenging part of his enrollment, he said. "Once that is done yearly maintenance is fairly easy. Just part of record keeping of any well-managed purebred or commercial operation.
Retallick, the Angus Genetics Inc, Genetic Service Director believes that information about when and why a cow was culled is useful.
"We have a standard set of cutting codes they can choose from, for example, if the calf died or she came up open or she got stifled. This helps us come up with new research to correct issues and to identify problems that are causing our members and their customers challenges," she said.
For example, Retallick said the Association has been able to track over time certain feet and leg issues and is working on an EPD to help predict how likely a bull or cow is to pass on good feet structure or problems in that area.
The relatively new heifer pregnancy EPD was developed as a result of data collected through the MaternalPlus program, Tokach said.
Gaining information on when and why a cow leaves the herd will help the association identify trends and perhaps allow them to seek improvements.
"If we are getting a huge line or individual animals that are leaving early because they are open," Retallick said, "maybe there is a genetic tie there to fertility or cow survivability. That's where this program is focused — the whole herd approach rather than individual traits like weaning weights."
Retallick said the program asks for information on animals that die — for example, birthweights on dead calves, because, again, a it could eventually help identify a problematic trend.
The association board in fact directed the genetics group to create a scoring system for foot structure, and they as a result, they will release a foot angle EPD in June 2019.
"The overall goal of the whole MaternalPlus program is basically trying to build this cow production database to get at things like cow longevity. We know cow survivability is important to seedstock as well as commercial producers."
Retallick said breeders have signed up about 50,000 head of cattle in MaternalPlus, but in a program that registers about 320,000 head per year, that isn't enough.
Retallick said breeders whose herds are registered with MaternalPlus for an entire year, and then re-enrolled for a second year receive 5 percent cashback on Association fees such annual membership dues, registration costs, AHIR record reporting and more for that year. Breeders receive a 2.5 percent discount on association fees in subsequent years. F