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The road to progression

Published on 24 July 2018

My father-in-law is famous for saying “he’s not progressing; he’s degressing.” In fact, for his birthday last year, I gave him one of our spiffy Progressive Cattleman hats.

Turning it around in his hands, he seemed a bit reluctant to sport his new cap. “I’m not a “‘progressive cattleman,’” he said.

Progression, not to be confused with perfection, is simply defined as “moving forward or onward,” or better yet, “happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step.”

In my opinion, being progressive doesn’t mean there aren’t scouring calves, open cows or down fences. It doesn’t mean immaculate or manicured property lines, or shops with everything from crescent wrenches to sprinkler heads in labeled bins. No, being progressive simply means you’re trying, and you’re improving – albeit slowly.

A few months ago, I attended the 50th anniversary of the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) in Loveland, Colorado. Rounding up some of the most progressive minds in the business, this conference is essentially the breeding ground for genetic progress.

But this year, as the organization celebrated an important milestone, it was not only a chance for members to reflect on past breakthroughs but to charge into the next 50 years of producing better beef.

Here is a brief look at some of the industry’s accomplishments in the past 50 years:

  • 1960s and 1970s – Expected progeny differences (EPDs) were developed to standardize all performance records across beef cattle breeds.

  • 1980s – EPDs continued to evolve to include end-product traits such as carcass weight, marbling scores and ribeye area.

  • 1990s – New technologies within DNA and gene frequency emerged.

  • 2000s – Selection indexes were created, and genomic tools were better utilized to make economic decisions and rapid genetic progress.

You see, as an industry, we have come leaps and bounds in the past 50 years. We have improved our product; essentially doubling the amount of Prime beef available on the marketplace, we now produce more beef with fewer cattle and, with the help of genomic technologies, we can better predict how cattle will perform in our herd. But those successes didn’t come without setbacks.

We all know cattle went from David to Goliath in size; feet and leg structure have posed problems, feed efficiency is questioned, and the sustainability of beef is on the forefront of consumers’ minds. Some would even argue the heavy use of select A.I. sires has narrowed the gene pool, and the inappropriate use of breed diversity has created a mongrelized mess.

Yes, we may have our work cut out for us in the next 50 years, but the accomplishments of the previous 50 have me hopeful. Just like BIF’s early founders, being progressive is simply seeing a need and making a change. It’s the desire to not just get by but to get better.

So to my father-in-law, wear your hat proudly. Because you are better than you were yesterday, and that’s what being “progressive” is all about.  end mark

Cassidy Woolsey
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