Sale trends prove performance is key

Farm Forum

If there is a positive outcome associated with recent drought, it’s that cattlemen are taking a more objective look at their herds and strategically planning for the future. What genetic lines are working? Which are not? What traits will become increasingly important in the marketplace? These are all questions being asked across cattle country, especially during sale season.

Oftentimes, making herd improvements requires extra investment. American Angus Association sales data show producers were willing to spend more for predictable cattle that perform and achieve higher returns on that investment.

“It’s been another solid spring sale season for the Angus breed,” says Bryce Schumann, Association chief executive officer. “Coming out of the challenging drought season, people are turning to Angus cattle as a source of consistent, high quality genetics.”

According to current fiscal year-to-date figures, the average price for a registered Angus bull is $4,397. This spring, the breed’s top sellers ranged from more than $30,000 to a few surpassing the $100,000-mark, according to Association reports. Reported Angus female prices are on pace for a record year, with sale averages at $3,562. That suggests many breeders have their sights on herd rebuilding and expansion – and they want to improve quality in the process.

“Angus drives the market every year from the sheer volume standpoint,” says Wes Tiemann, Association regional manager. “People trust and understand the data because it is reliable.”

Predicting performance

In addition to investing in an Angus bull or female, producers are gaining access to the nation’s largest, most comprehensive suite of genetic selection tools. The information provided by the Association incorporates both genomic and phenotypic data, and the technology allows registered Angus breeders to receive genomic enhanced expected progeny differences (GE-EPDs) on a weekly basis, which is a service unavailable elsewhere.

“It’s the data-enhanced Angus genetics that have commercial cattlemen returning for more,” says Tiemann, whose region covers Missouri and Iowa. “We’ve seen definite demand for the higher-quality bulls in regards to the whole suite of EPDs.”

The list of trait evaluations offered to cattlemen is long, but Tiemann says there are a few trends buyers seem to be following for this year’s breeding season, including selecting bulls based on the calving ease direct (CED) EPD.

Sally Northcutt, Association director of genetic research, says Angus breeders are becoming more familiar with the use of the CED EPD as a helpful selection tool for use in first-calf heifers. It’s reported in the percent of unassisted births, meaning a higher value is favorable.

“This is a great tool for bull buyers who are trying to increase unassisted births in their herd,” Northcutt says. “Heifer calving ease EPDs encompass all available information, including heifer calving scores, birth weights as an indicator trait, and genomics to provide the most accurate EPD to date.”

In the North, Association Regional Manager Vern Frey says Angus sales went better than expected this spring, in terms of cow numbers in his area. Several farms and ranches had to make some tough culling decisions, and take a closer look at nutrition and pasture management.

“The drought has restricted feed supply, and the bulls that came through the sale ring in better condition, and on limited feed supply, went for more money,” says Frey, who travels to sales in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Limited feed supply affects how cattlemen chose genetics in an environment where soaring feed costs might account for 70-75% of the expenses associated with raising cattle.

Frey says cattlemen are paying closer attention to postweaning efficiency using the residual average daily gain (RADG) EPD. It predicts future progeny performance for postweaning average daily gain (lb/day) given a constant amount of feed consumed. A higher EPD is more favorable. By analyzing an animal’s genetics for both individual feed intake and postweaning growth, producers can better select for feed efficiency genetics.

“The RADG EPD, as a genetic selection tool, is more comprehensive than individual phenotypic measures of intake and efficiency and may provide producers a real financial advantage,” says Tonya Amen, Association genetic service director.

Estimating value

The evolution of EPDs has enabled cattle breeders to make significant progress in their herds. To simplify the process for multiple trait selection, the Association developed several value indexes expressed in terms we all understand – dollars per head. The dollar value indexes ($Values), dollar beef ($B) and weaned calf value ($W), continue to play a larger role in cattle selection.

Built with the commercial producer in mind, dollar value indexes are meant to be simple, says Bill Bowman, Association chief operating officer: “Indexes add an economic layer to EPDs, and give us a chance to look at a more balanced approach and consider not only the outputs, or EPDs, in terms of the revenue they create, but also adjust for expenses in an operation.”

The $W index is a particular interest to cattlemen who are marketing their calves at weaning. The maternal-focused index includes birth weight, weaning weight, milk and mature cow size genetic and economic components to arrive at an index that will predict profit through the pre-weaning phase of production.

$B focuses on terminal genetic selection and facilitates what almost every breeder is already seeking: simultaneous multi-trait genetic selection for feedlot and carcass merit, based on dollars and cents. $B represents the expected average dollar-per-head difference in the progeny post weaning performance, and carcass value compared with progeny of other sires.

Calving ease direct, residual average daily gain and dollar value indexes are only a few of the selection tools offered by the Association. Cattle producers are encouraged to become familiar with all the available resources to take full advantage of their investment in Angus genetics.

“Cattlemen are using these genetic tools because they are simple and reliable,” Tiemann says. “Who wouldn’t pay a little extra when the nation’s largest database is backing up their investment?”

Visit to view the most up-to-date Angus performance data or to learn more about dollar value indexes and EPDs.