Bill and I are both early risers – often earlier than we would like to be. (I am told that is a factor of age and the aches and pains that accompany that! Oh, Joy!) So, those early hours are often when we do a lot of the AGA Registry work, as well as bringing my spreadsheets up to date. Like so much of this ranching life, data reporting is very cyclical. In the spring/summer, we record and register the calves, usually with Bill reading off the information out of his red book, as I enter it. We are also looking at mating the cows and reviewing the bulls that need to be replaced. That, of course, means sifting through lots of bull catalogs and looking for a new herd sire or two. After branding in May, we are sending in the DNA samples and generating the requests for sire verification and genomic testing. Then comes weaning in October, with all the data entry associated with that. Besides entering the data, we are constantly evaluating it – not just ours, but others as well, especially when choosing new AI sires or new bulls. We pretty much record and enter every piece of information we have. We really believe that the better job we do with 100% reporting, then the better job that data will do for us in our program and the breed.
So, now is my time for me to take a little step up on my soapbox. When we look at any individual animal, we usually check out their individual performance data to see where they ratioed with their contemporary group for the various pieces of the puzzles. Also, is there ultrasound data? What about genomic testing? We also look at their sire’s progeny, to get an overview of this animal’s half-siblings. Is there some consistency? Is there a bell curve with the various data and EPD’s? In general, the more calves reported – the better picture we can get for that sire. Obviously, herd sires will not have the abundance of data since they have only been used in one or 2 herds, but its still a good way to get a good “read” for that animal.
As we are looking at that calf’s data, we also check out the size of the contemporary groups. Is this bull calf only compared to 8 or 10 other calves for birth and weaning? We really want to see them in a larger group, so that we know the ratio for their birth and weaning is being compared to lots of other calves with various sire groups represented but wouldn’t a larger comparison group to really get make the EPD’s as accurate as possible.. Now, we know that some breeders may have very small pasture groups, but if it’s a big operation with 100-200 head, then it makes us scratch our heads.
Over time, as we have done this, we have been noticing some other anomalies. Now, as a disclaimer, I know that people do not get their calves registered/reported in a timely manner. There are lots more important things to do with our time and the paperwork can easily get put aside. However, we started noticing that there is sometimes a really odd proportion of bulls vs heifers, which made us start questioning things. I realize that many male calves are steered and people may not want to waste the time to register the cull steers, as well as cull heifers. HOWEVER, that data is necessary for our Breed’s accuracy.
We will always have the discussion on EPD’s – Can we trust them? Can they really be effective? There could be pages of discussion on this. BUT, quite simply, if people are not reporting everything, then the data is not complete and does not have even have the best chance of accuracy. If we pay a Herd Assessment, we need to report a calf for that cow, whether it is a live healthy stud of a calf or if it was born dead (or dies) and even if it’s a mutt and we decide to never repeat that combination of breeding. It is even possible to report a cow that aborted or was held out of the cycle for a year. Basically, we all need to do a better job at reporting an “outcome” for every single cow in the Herd Assessment. Right now, that number is about 70%. So that could mean that up to 25% of the calves born out there are not reported. I think that improving that percentage is something we need to focus on as individuals and as a breed
After we started seeing more of this, we realized we should put our beliefs and practices down on paper. Here is what we came up with. This is how we use data and think to help us make a difference in our program, and, hopefully, the breed.
Phenotypically Enhanced Genomic EPD’s
- We use genomic testing, but we combine it with phenotypical data to give the complete picture.
- ALL weights and measurements are taken AND reported, along with PAP tests, feet/leg scoring and 15+ years of ultrasound data on bulls and females.
- Because we require this data in any animal we buy, we want to provide it for those we sell.
- Our breeding goal is to produce industry-profitable calves – whether they go into another registered herd or a commercial program.
- Every individual female is mated on “paper” (using AGA Registry’s mating program) to give us an idea of the best possible EPD profile, then we finalize the matings by reviewing phenotypes. Most are first AI’d, then strategically sorted into pasture groups, each with 2 comparable herd sires.
- We parent verify every calf to ensure we are accurately reporting their lineage.
Unbiased Contemporary Groups
- We strongly feel that the future of the breed, as well as our program, depends on 100% reporting.
- We report the good, the bad and the ugly – even if the results are disappointing. So, all data is submitted as is – no cows or calves are omitted or put in special groups.
- Simply put, we don’t “put our finger on the scale!”