Selecting for Dollars
Selection indexes can simplify multitrait selection, but providers need to present clearly.
DES MOINES, Iowa (June 23, 2021) — Bull buying can be overwhelming for producers, especially when they attempt to utilize the extensive list of expected progeny differences (EPDs) and indexes available to them. What is meant to help producers tends to backfire simply because of a knowledge gap, according to Troy Rowan. The University of Tennessee assistant professor spoke June 23 at the 2021 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) Research Symposium & Convention.
He emphasized that breeding goals should be clearly defined before selecting a bull.
“Economic selection indexes are our most effective tool for multitrait selection,” said Troy Rowan.
“Breeding goals should be realistic,” Rowan said. “They should be production-environment aware and aligned with costs and revenue sources.”
He said they should also be consistent while remaining flexible, data-driven and, most of all, profitable. EPDs and indexes can be used to guide seedstock selection to meet those breeding objectives, but the sheer number to be considered can make the task daunting.
“There can be an information overload, which causes producers not to use the tools offered to them,” Rowan said.
To achieve a breeding goal, farmers and ranchers should consider multitrait selection. It is almost always necessary, and not all traits are of equal importance. There are three options for multitrait selection: tandem selection, independent culling levels and economic selection indexes.
“Economic selection indexes are our most effective tool for multitrait selection,” Rowan said.
These indexes select on aggregate economic merit using economically relevant traits or indicators with EPDs. They attach an economic value to each trait and account for genetic correlations.
“Economic selection indexes deliver a single value that is interpreted as the difference in per-calf profitability between sires,” Rowan said. “They directly quantify profit.”
Indexes require assumptions, like the production system and economic values. They are flexible, but need updating. As the inputs change, so do the indexes.
“Indexes are robust, but they are generalized,” Rowan said.
While economic selection indexes are a great tool, Rowan said, the industry needs to present the information clearly.
“Sometimes we bury the things that are the most important for producers or we aren’t even reporting all of the indexes that might be relevant,” Rowan said.
The future is bright for selection indexes. Rowan said there is work being done to expand decision-support tools, novel traits, and production-environment-aware and sustainability indexes.
For more on using EPDs and dollar value indexes ($Values) provided on registered Angus bulls, see “Sorting Gate: Tools for ‘hiringʼ the right bull” available online at www.angusbeefbulletin.com/articlepdf/0221-sorting-gate.pdf.
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