High tech fits marketing, too

Farm Forum

Recently my family bought a camper. I was on the phone describing it to my mom, as she asked, “You mean, there’s a wall right there? The bed folds down – how?”

So I said, “Hold on and I’ll FaceTime you.” In less than 10 seconds, I was giving her a tour via my iPhone. We were separated by 450 miles, but she could easily see every detail for herself.

In high school my friends and I used Instant Messenger like it was going out of style (and I guess it was!). I bought my first cell phone when I went to college, but didn’t text because it cost 25 cents every time I did. I couldn’t imagine the ease with which we’d use Skype and FaceTime or texting for both business and personal connections just a few years later.

Global positioning systems (GPS) now guide us down the highways and autosteer farm tractors in fields patrolled by drones. In our homes, robots now clean the floors while we sleep.

It all makes me wonder: In a decade or two, will kids live-stream a video of The Jetsons cartoon and think it looks more like the Flintstones did to me?

In the cattle business, these changes are all about us.

When I started my professional career a decade ago, I listened to talks that questioned whether cattle DNA genomics could be an applicable technology in the field. It would need higher accuracy, lower price points and an easy way to interpret and incorporate the data. I listened to experts in academia and industry, and even producers who were very early adopters, with wonder and amazement. It all sounded a bit George Jetson-esque

But now? All of those things have happened and exponentially more producers are improving their herds with simple blood tests or tissue samples.

Depending on the breed, today’s genomically-enhanced expected progeny differences (EPDs) are updated as often as weekly.

Think about that. First there was phenotype, or selecting animals based on looks alone. Along came estimated breeding values (EBVs, still used on individual animals across the world), and then EPDs grew in popularity as cattlemen could see directional change in calves.

And now, you don’t even have to wait for a spring or fall sire summary to know how animals rank. It’s available nearly in real-time.

On top of that, a commercial cowman can take an ear notch at tagging and within a few weeks have an estimate of that calf’s ability to gain and grade or carry maternal characteristics into the herd.

Now direct your attention to the changes in marketing. Previous generations took cattle to the auction market, where they were identied by weight, sex and color.

How do you sell calf crop? Perhaps by taking them to the auction and providing no more clues than weight, sex and color. Don’t ignore technology in marketing – talk to your auction manager about how to earn premiums with documented health and genetics.

Look into variations such as video and online auctions. Source and age verification. Natural affidavits. A few recent programs aim to do more to help sellers communicate genetics and capture more value, no matter how they sell.

All lead to more information flow. But, if we’re honest, can we say our ability to market animals has kept up with all the technological and data changes in genetic selection?

Imagine going to buy a bull and knowing only this: where it came from, what it looked like and it’s advertised breed makeup.

Might seem a bit antiquated.

Next time in Black Ink Steve Suther will look at indicator cows and the leading edge. Questions? E-mail