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Pretty isn’t always profitable

Progressive Cattleman Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 23 February 2018

As the piston moves on its first downward stroke, the intake valve opens to allow a mixture of fuel and air to fill the combustion chamber. Once the valve closes and the piston moves upward, the fuel-air mixture is compressed, causing it to combust.

The spark plug ignites and burns the mixture explosively, forcing the piston into another downward stroke where the mixture is released through the exhaust valves.

Thanks to the man on YouTube, I just summarized the basics of how a car engine works. Bada bing, bada boom.

Sure, I have sat in the driver’s seat many a time since I turned 16 (actually, since I could peek over the steering wheel and, like Stretch Armstrong, pressing my shoe tip on the brake). But I can’t say I ever understood how the engine functioned or how the vehicle worked for that matter.

At the Range Beef Cow Symposium in Cheyenne, Wyoming, last November, Matt Spangler, Ph.D., University of Nebraska – Lincoln, asked the audience who had traveled by means of anything other than a vehicle or a plane.

Spangler then posed this question: “How many of you can explain to me in great detail how the engine of your vehicle or airplane works?”

No response.

“Then why did you come here in a vehicle or plane?” he asked.

His point: Sometimes airplanes crash and vehicles break down, but we make the conscious decision that even though we don’t know how those two modes of transportation work, they are a more efficient means of getting us from point A to point B. The same can be said for genetic tools.

I have to admit there’s nothing quite like walking through the year’s calf crop with a small notepad in hand, jotting down keeps and culls. Your eyes dart back and forth in pursuit of long and wide, deep and square, and you watch closely to see how the animal fills its tracks. You look for symmetrical toes and for femininity – anything sub-par leaves the herd. But from what I’ve gathered from various beef conferences this past year, our efforts shouldn’t stop there.

While still pretty new to the beef industry, genomic technology can be a producer’s Magic 8-Ball in selecting for and against traits we cannot see. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could know which heifers have a higher probability of staying in the cow herd when compared to their counterparts? It just so happens you can, along with carcass traits and performance traits that drive efficiency.

Having a flashy cow herd to stamp your brand on is every producer’s dream but, unfortunately, looks alone aren’t always what’s profitable. The reality is: When using genetic predictors and few traits of phenotypic data, a producer can influence genetic progress and profitability at a much faster and efficient pace.

In this issue of Progressive Cattleman, we have multiple articles on genetics and breeding. Whether it be DNA testing, A.I. or reconstructing your breeding plan, see how you can add value to your breeding decisions for the coming year.

Spangler put it this way, “If we are going to be able to feed people in 2050, we can no longer use technology from 1950.” end mark

Cassidy Woolsey
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