Technology two-step for beef herds

Farm Forum

Talk is still cheap, but with the kind of dollars at risk in the cattle business today, the premium is on proof. That’s why Gardiner Angus Ranch, Ashland, Kan., set out to demonstrate how fast and how much herd quality can improve using today’s DNA tests and highly proven sires concurrently.

Partnering with Zoetis, the “Technology 2-Step Research Project” began in 2012 by selecting 104 Continental-based heifers from a Texas ranch, chosen to represent marbling potential that’s average at best.

Zoetis MVP genomic test results on all of them supplied criteria for culling the bottom one-third for commodity feeders while the rest were kept for breeding.

Retained heifers were then AI bred to Gardiner Angus sires selected for calving ease, growth and carcass values. To simulate any typical cattle operation, the resulting calves were managed in a traditional fashion, weaned and fed in a southwest Kansas feedyard before harvest in June 2014.

Results were convincing for the combined benefit of DNA technology and proven AI sires.

Breeding the best two-thirds heifers, whose marbling potential still ranged from below average to average, to proven carcass-value sires produced calves with a GeneMax average score of 82.4 and ranked in the top 5% of all cattle marketed through U.S. Premium Beef last June.

Their carcasses graded 94.6% USDA Choice and higher. Of those 5.8% were Prime, 35% more qualified for the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) brand. And just to top it all off, zero dockage for heavy or light carcasses.

That all added up to grid premiums of $113.10 per head. One generation of selective breeding led to a complete turnaround in carcass quality. That doesn’t surprise everybody.

“Without being boastful, we know this stuff works, so it was exactly what we expected to see. But at the same time we wanted to prove it,” says Mark Gardiner.

If not surprised, the cattle industry was at least impressed.

“The magnitude of change they were able to elicit by using proven genetics – you’re making virtually staggering changes in terms of how many more of these cattle grade at the higher level where premiums are paid,” says Larry Corah, CAB vice president.

Record high beef prices make these types of quality improvements more valuable to the industry than ever.

“The consumer very definitely desires beef,” Corah says. “For us to maintain the consumers’ confidence and willingness to spend their dollar on beef, they have to get a quality eating experience. And as this research showed so clearly, through the use of technology and genetics, that can be created.”

Corah credited the Gardiners for their commitment to the demonstration and sharing results that “could not have come at a better time.”

A year of good rainfall and high cattle prices may have many producers looking to expand herds previously trimmed during drought. DNA testing can help take the guesswork out of picking replacement heifers. Rather than gambling on physical appearance, selections can use real data and guard against accidentally selling the best heifers.

“If we use and apply both old and new technologies, even at these record-setting prices, we can still achieve added value,” says Gardiner, who admits some of their greatest improvements have come from using the combined technologies highlighted in the demonstration.

Now he simply hopes the Technology 2-Step Research Project results will give producers the confidence to incorporate these tools and methods into their own operations.

“I think today people can get overwhelmed by these types of things, but it isn’t brain surgery,” Gardiner says. “Anybody can do it. I just encourage them to adopt and apply the technology to make their bottom line better.”