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Genomic Tools for Balanced Commercial Cows

Live animal demonstration encourages producers to consider female selection tools to help them produce the kind of beef consumers prefer.

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (Nov. 3, 2015) — It’s not hard to understand why cattle producers should care about consumer preferences. After all, dollars spent at the meat counter represent the beef industry’s only source of new money. Consumer dollars trickle back through the production chain — from retailer to packer, then to the cattle feeder, then to the stocker operator and cow-calf producer, and finally to the seedstock breeder.

But do consumer preferences really influence the kind of cows found on this nation’s commercial cow outfits?

During the Angus Means Business National Convention & Trade Show Nov. 3-5 in Overland Park, Kan., Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB) Vice President Mark McCully and Zoetis Technical Services Associate Director Kent Andersen talked about how consumer preferences do affect the commercial cow. They urged cattlemen to consider female selection tools designed to further the production of calves that yield the kind of beef that a growing percentage of consumers prefer.

McCully said the No. 1 reason consumers choose beef over alternative protein sources is its “unique and desirable taste.” Calling intramuscular fat, or marbling, the primary contributor to taste, McCully cited recent Colorado State University data suggesting that the consumer eating experience improves with increased marbling.

While beef is more expensive than the alternatives, retail sales suggest that many consumers still perceive beef as the greater value. McCully noted annual average beef cutout values showing a $250 value difference between Select and Prime carcasses of the same weight.

“The Millennial Generation appears to be less sensitive to price. Our Millennials like beef!” stated McCully. “We are selling more Prime and branded (Premium Choice) beef than Select at a higher price than ever before. Cattle qualifying for CAB now represent about 15% of the fed-cattle mix, and that should continue to grow.”

Referring to the rebuilding of the national cow herd, which is under way, and the eventual increase in numbers of feeder cattle, McCully predicted more value differentiation in the feeder-cattle market. This, he added, can be used to advantage by sellers using feeder-cattle certification programs.

Kent Andersen agreed, saying cattle feeders will have to decide whether to fill pens with commodity cattle, at lower cost, or pay more for value-added cattle. Andersen said providing buyers with information about genetics, health and other management practices lends premium-worthy performance predictability to feeder cattle. He encouraged producers to consider certification programs offered by Top Dollar Angus Inc., offering third-party genetic verification, and Reputation Feeder Cattle, offering genetic, calf management plus age and source verification.

Andersen also described how the GeneMax Advantage genomic test can aid selection of commercial replacement females most likely to produce high-value feeder calves in the future. A collaborative creation of Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI), CAB and Zoetis, the DNA test provides cattle owners with results including three selection index scores.

According to Andersen, the Cow Advantage Score predicts differences in profitability from heifer development, pregnancy, calving ease, milk production, growth and cow costs, to the sale of weaned progeny. Feeder Advantage Scores predict differences in net return of feeder-calf progeny due to transmitted genetics for postweaning growth, feed efficiency, carcass weight and CAB carcass merit. A Total Advantage Score predicts differences in profitability from genetic merit across all traits evaluated by the test.

The Sire Match feature can be used to plan matings, matching females with bulls that allow for optimization of genetic strengths while addressing weaknesses. Andersen said female owners also receive a SMART Outlier Report identifying females that may be genetically least desirable relative to cow cost, docility and beef tenderness.

McCully encouraged producers to gear up for the future, telling them to anticipate more feeder calf buyers to seek documentation of calf genetics and management. They should anticipate wider price spreads, on the basis of quality.

“Genomics,” stated McCully, “could be a game-changer.”

This Innovation Workshop was sponsored by Zoetis.

Editor’s Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal, which maintains the copyright. To request permission to reprint, please contact Shauna Hermel at 816-383-5270.