Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention
Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention

Targeting Bull Selection to Match Your Management

Colorado State’s Mark Enns offers four questions to help seedstock providers supply genetics better-targeted to their customers.

Genetic selection for seedstock producers is not an easy task. There are many factors to consider, including what they need to produce to provide genetics that will influence profitability for commercial customers. Mark Enns, animal scientist at Colorado State University, challenged attendees at the 54th Annual Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention, hosted June 1-3 in Las Cruces, N.M., to answer four questions when targeting bull selection to match their management, environment and market.

“As breeders answer four questions, they will gain a greater focus on traits that will influence their operation, including income, costs and environmental challenges,” said Enns. “Once we characterize what we are going to sell to our customers and look at the challenges, then breeders can narrow down a list of genetics that better fits their environment or situation.”

The four questions Enns proposed include:

  1. 1) How will I market my animals?
  2. 2) What are the key production challenges?
  3. 3) What are the keys to getting a calf for sale?
  4. 4) What are the critical cost centers?

Enns explained that as breeders identify how they will sell their animals, they will need to select different traits. The answers will influence the genetic parameters a breeder will want to emphasize. For example, when your customers sell cattle at weaning, as a seedstock breeder, your focus should be on weaning weight, milk production or expected progeny differences (EPDs) for maternal traits. If your customers want to retain ownership and sell cattle on a grid, carcass EPDs should be at the forefront of your selection matrix.

When a producer dials in on production challenges experienced due to the environment, a different group of EPDs will shift to the forefront of selection.

“Cattle raised in areas of drought, excessive heat or higher elevation all require different management and can benefit from matings where environmental EPDs are considered,” Enns noted. These may include a hair-shedding EPD for heat tolerance or a PAP EPD for use in high elevations.

However, Enns cautioned breeders about selecting too many traits at once.

“Multiple-trait selection will slow progress,” he said. “The more traits we add into the mix, the slower we make our progress. But we also don’t want to swing the pendulum too far and focus on single-trait selection, because we know what that can do, too.”

Enns suggested breeders find that optimum point of making progress with EPD selection.

When it comes to identifying traits to select for, Enns said, breeders should concentrate on the economically relevant traits (ERTs).

“Emphasize traits that will directly influence your profitability,” he emphasized, explaining adaptability and matching cattle to the environment is key. “If you push one selection criteria outside what matches your environment, you increase risk, management needs and cost. A systems view works best in a limiting environment.”

Enns challenged BIF and breeders to continue to make changes that will translate to the commercial cattle industry. He reaffirmed the success of incorporating ultrasound data into selection, reporting that the percentage of animals harvested grading USDA Choice increased two generations later. He said he hopes the industry can find ways to have fertility and reproductive-related traits more transferable to the commercial sector, because of reproduction’s economic ramifications.

Enns closed, stating, “the industry has developed more and more EPDs to allow breeders to align their cattle with the environment."

To watch Enns’ full presentation, visit [___ link to come ____]. To download his slides, click here.

More than 300 beef producers, academia and industry representatives attended BIF’s 54th Annual Research Symposium and Convention in Las Cruces, New Mexico. For more information about this year’s symposium, including award winners, coverage of the symposium and an archive to coverage of past conferences, go to

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