Making Bulls Equal Profit
Selection indexes offer new opportunity to economically quantify breeding objectives for terminal sires.

Mike MacNeil, of the USDA Livestock and Range Research Laboratory, Miles City, Mont., presented breeding objectives of terminal sire indexes in Thursday morning's session.
BILLINGS, MONTANA (July 7, 2005) — With several breed associations, including the American Angus Association, introducing selection indexes, the beef industry is moving into a new era of selection that focuses on multiple traits and economics. During his morning presentation to the more than 700 participants at the annual Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) conference in Billings, Mont., USDA animal geneticist Mike MacNeil commended breed associations and producers who are embracing this new selection tool.

“I salute the board of directors of the associations that have adopted selection indexes. This represents a major change for them from the way they have done genetic evaluations in the past,” MacNeil said, pointing out that selection indexes represent a valuable tool for the industry in the future.

“Sire selection is always about predicting the future,” MacNeil said. “Everybody buys a bull for the calves he’ll sire in the future. Part of this process is speculation about economics of the future.” Thus the format of selection indexes — presented as a single dollar figure for an animal — allows for ease of use and more practical comparisons, particularly for commercial producers choosing terminal sires.

Additionally, MacNeil said selection indexes provide a more robust means of evaluating sires for their future potential because they allow for multiple factors to be put into the evaluation, compared to expected progeny differences (EPDs), which only allow single-trait comparisons. For instance, phenotypic traits such as growth, feed intake and pregnancy rate, as well as economic factors including returns from beef carcasses and costs of production at the feedlot and cow-calf sector can be included in calculating an index.

Moreover, each breed association can tailor that index simulation to the economically relevant traits (ERTs) they are most interested in. And, according to MacNeil, the multi-trait approach allows for more data to be used in indexes. He said, “There’s a huge amount of data out there that’s not being used that is economically important.” As an example for bulls, breeding soundness exam information could be included in future selection indexes for terminal sires.

As the industry moves toward adopting this new selection technology, MacNeil admitted there are some complications in the application of indexes. For instance, not all traits of economic relevance — such as calf survival — have EPDs. Though economically important, that data can’t presently be included in index calculations.

He also reported there’s been a perception that variation in production systems can be a reason not to use indexes, but he believes that is overstated. He admits indexes are not perfect, but says they are a better tool than the industry has ever had for selection.

“Change is inevitable, you must decide if you want to embrace it,” he said.

— by Kindra Gordon, field editor, Angus Productions Inc._© Copyright 2005 Angus Productions Inc.

Editor’s Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of Angus Productions Inc. (API), which claims copyright to this article. It may not be published or distributed without the express permission of Angus Productions Inc. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at (816) 383-5270 or