Is Modern Technology Worth It?

Beef cattle breed associations are proving that they can, and will service the beef industry far beyond the seedstock sector. The American Gelbvieh Association (AGA) provides many services to the commercial cattle producer. As any business owner knows, you are not successful unless your customers are successful and satisfied. So why not provide the AGA members and their customers the tools necessary to be successful?

The beef industry has known for years the importance of collecting data at the seedstock level but is also finding the value in gathering information for commercial operations as well. Collecting information can help find the management practices that are producing the best results as well as the inefficiencies in the operation. Addressing those inefficiencies is sometimes as simple as cutting spending, other times, it means using modern technology to help manage the operation. Then there is always the conversation that starts with the question, “Is it worth it?”

Before answering that question, we first must consider what modern technologies are available to the commercial cattle producer. The answer, Smart Select Service and the Maternal Edge DNA panel, both provided through the AGA. Smart Select Service and the Maternal Edge DNA panel complement each other very well concerning breeding selection and herd management.

Smart Select Service gives the commercial producer the power to select the best breeding stock they have to be the future leading females. Our visual evaluation of animals and our intuition does serve us well when selecting high-quality animals. However, there are those unforeseen traits that can be discovered by using Smart Select Service. Measuring weights, tracking growth, following top producing bloodlines, and many other traits can tell a producer so much about their cows. In these past few years, bull prices have stimulated the question, “Are these bulls I’m
investing in truly producing the quality of calves I have selected him for?” Tracking the progeny’s performance will show what that bull or bulls are actually producing. Smart Select Service will manage the herd data, but how do you know the program is worth having? The data collected is run in the National Cattle Evaluation along with all the registered cattle from breed associations in the multi-breed evaluation. What that means is the commercial herds will have genetic tools which are more accurate because they are compared against more animal’s performance data. This program opens up so many opportunities for producers. So many incredible things are discovered from data that puts thoughts into a different perspective and redirects how cattle are managed. One of the most interesting facts of Smart Select Service is that it is available to any breed of cattle. This is possible because the AGA runs the data through the multi-breed evaluation.

The Maternal Edge DNA Panel is a great tool to  follow up with Smart Select Service. The low-density DNA panel is designed to select Gelbvieh-influenced females to be the top replacement heifers. The Maternal Edge DNA profile evaluates heifers on six traits: calving ease, maternal calving ease, weaning weight, yield grade, marbling, and carcass weight.

DNA testing tells us what our eyes fail to see when we are standing in person looking at that animal. DNA testing is becoming more important because it is verification. As cattle producers head to bull sales, they see more bulls with Genomic-Enhanced EPDs (GE-EPDs). When producers are buying young bulls with GE-EPDs, they are buying bulls will more accurate EPDs than a bull without GE-EPDs. Some commercial producers now expect to see the GE-EPDs and will only buy bulls with genetic testing. So if producers expect to see the genetic information on their bulls, why should producers settle for anything less on the females in their herd. The most elite females and males, AI sires and donor dams, have DNA testing to anticipate that their genetics are going to be very repeatable and predictable. If the beef industry follows the example of the pork and poultry industry, advancing genetic progress will become the forefront of every selection decision.

To answer the initial question, “Is it worth it?” When looking at the initial investment, Smart Select Service is only a $1 per head. Now that seems like a reasonable enrollment fee doesn’t it? But is that really the only interpretation of that question, the initial investment? Another way to answer that question is to think about the value of getting to know each individual animal. If a producer knows each animal and has the phenotype and genomic data to back up breeding and management decisions to become more efficient, what value can you place on that?