Producers share bull selection, management and expansion intent
By Steve Suther
English breeds have dominated the U.S. cowherd genetic base for many years, but a January 2014 online survey of 1,245 producers in the Beef Today database shows more detail in their seedstock decisions.
Based on those who named Angus as the primary breed of cow and listed no other breed of bull used or purchased in the past three years, 34% of herds can be considered straight-bred Angus. That’s about four times the number of all other straight-bred herds.
Crossbred herds account for 58% of the total, and most of those use Angus genetics. Only 20% have no Angus genetics, and after accounting for non-Angus purebred herds, that means 89% of crossbred herds use Angus genetics.
Nearly 46% of respondents to the online study owned fewer than 50 cows, but results did not change significantly when those records were removed from the totals. Those producers with more than 200 cows tended to use a slightly lower percentage of Angus bulls.
Producers surveyed operated mainly in the North-central, South-central, Midwest and Southeast regions, but the West, Northwest and Northeast were also represented. Survey data showed more non-Angus bulls were used in the North-central region.
Producers aged 46 to 75 years made up 79% of the group, followed by those 30 to 45 and more than 75; the 3% who were less than 30 years old were much more likely to use Angus bulls (70%). Those older than 75 used other breeds the most. Other than those two ends that were not well represented, the older the producer, the more likely he or she was to use Angus bulls.
Bull usage in 2013 was recorded as 40.2% "Angus only," followed by "multiple breeds including Angus" at 29.2% and "multiple breeds but no Angus" at 7.2%. The rest were widely scattered among a dozen or more other breeds, such as Hereford at 4.2% (see bottom left chart).
Asked to name one breed that most represents the herd, producers named Angus 62.4% of the time, but some felt a need to list more than one, so there were 2.6% of respondents that named Angus and some other breed. Twelve percent named other English breeds, with Hereford representing half of those.
In this market where a single premium beef carcass might bring $2,500, it is surprising that 39.6% of respondents paid less than $2,500 for a bull in 2013 and 11.2% paid more than $5,000.
When it comes to DNA technology such as marker-assisted genetic selection, 31.4% would use it if the cost were less than $15, which is generally below the market for any commercial tests available today. Nearly 8.5% would use it at higher prices, but 60.2% would not use genomic tools at any price.
More than 65,000 bulls, 55% of which were Angus, were represented by survey participants; 16.1% of all respondents planned to use AI in 2014.
Operational insight. Results of the survey were cross-tabulated by breeding system and genetics as well as respondents’ trait preferences and other answers to create profiles for various mindsets among producers.
Operators of primarily Angus herds led all others in stressing the importance of a bull being registered and backed by DNA information. In management traits, they chose feedlot performance and carcass data as top concerns more often than other producers.
Those who ranked individual carcass data as above-average in importance numbered only 37% overall, but it was 41% among primarily Angus operations. Similarly, access to feedlot performance data was more important to 35.4% of all, but to 39.8% of Angus operations. By comparison, only 33% of those with other purebred herds ranked each of the two traits at more than average importance.
The survey’s design prevents digging too deeply into management priorities because it asked participants to rank factors. The decision to rank carcass data at the top meant some other factor such as vaccinations, calf ID or brand eligibility would show up relatively lower. That effect can be seen for those who ranked carcass data high. A natural interest in calf ID and feedlot performance would follow.
That meant an apparent, but likely not "real," gap between those who rank carcass data above average but up to 60% putting vaccinations as below average importance, and those who ranked carcass data below average but 63.8% ranked vaccinations first or second.
Cross correlations for bull selection traits were less affected because a wider scale was used.
Participants reporting the use of no Angus genetics were the most likely to use AI and the most likely to rank calving ease and disposition as top selection criteria.
Crossbred herd managers ranked calving ease, breeder reputation and growth as the top three most important traits in bull selection.
Among those ranking carcass data as a top management concern, 55.6% named carcass value and 44.4% named feedlot performance in the top three factors for bull selection. For the subset of those who operate primarily Angus herds, those numbers were 65% and 51.3%, respectively. For those with no Angus genetics but favoring carcass data, the numbers were 50.7% and 41.4%, respectively.
The survey also asked if respondents had retained more heifers in the past three years and if they plan to retain more in the next three. A similar question explored past history and intentions to buy females (see chart below).
Results show 58% of producers have kept more heifers and 59% plan to keep heifers in the next three years. Less than 30% bought breeding females in the past three years and only 26% plan to buy in the next three. In both categories, disposition and calving ease traits ranked highest for bull selection, followed by breeder reputation.