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Getting the most out of GE-EPDs in cattle marketing

Jaclyn Krymowski for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 January 2021
Cattle Market

Genomics, in addition to being a powerful decision-making tool, is finding a new home in cattle marketing.

Genetic information in the form of genomically enhanced expected progeny differences (GE-EPDs) has become an important data point for the marketing business.

Last year marked a decade of cattle genomics. Today, breeders submit genetic data through testing and breed associations with growing vigor. Industry professionals continue to be vested in research and creating new indexes to meet all sectors of production.

In the business of cattle sales, especially when it comes to bulls and the seedstock sector, genomic information is highly sought after by buyers and sellers. Genomic numbers are often one of the first pieces of information you’ll find highlighted on flyers and in catalogs.

To stay competitive, it pays to understand the significance of genetic information and how to harness it in buying and selling strategies.

Shifting tides

The industry has spent decades collecting data, doing research and perfecting EPDs, obtaining considerable reliability. Even at optimal levels, this can only tell so much – especially when it pertains to young and unproven animals.

Charlie Boyd of Boyd Beef Cattle notes he has observed huge strides with producers incorporating genetic information in their purchases.

He and his family have 350 head of Angus and Hereford cows in Mays Lick, Kentucky. In addition to developing their own herd with an embryo transfer and A.I. program, they also host three sales a year.

Being early adopters of genomic testing, Boyd believes having multiple generations backed by both genetic and phenotypic data allows him to provide much greater predictability and reliability to customers.

“There’s no question,” he says regarding a change in bull buyers’ expectations for genomic testing. “In the beginning, when we started to incorporate DNA and genomics into our program, we spent the first four to five years educating our customers as to what that value was.”

Today, he and his family spend less time educating and more time helping buyers find which traits fit their programs.

The sire and semen market seems to reflect similar changes. Beef-360, a company selling beef semen and other genetic services, reports that many of their customers find a lot of value in genomics in different capacities.

Keenan Switzer, the company’s co-founder and co-owner, says in the early years it was novel in both the commercial and seedstock sectors.

“Now it’s almost rare that you find operations that aren’t utilizing genomics in some fashion,” he says.

Using it to a marketing advantage

First and foremost, cattle buyers need to understand the basic genetic needs of their buyers and the traits they are looking for.

“Beef producers need to first be sure the EPD they’re looking at is the right one for them,” says Darrh Bullock of the University of Kentucky.

That said, Bullock continues saying buyers knowldgeable about their needs are often willing to spend more money on animals that are genotyped.

Many of today’s bull buyers demand sires be tested before committing to purchase. Likewise, sires who do not have parents tested can also lose value due to some data gaps in the pedigree and decreased reliability.

“There’s places where money’s been left on the table where buyers may not bid on a bull because they don’t know what they’re buying,” Switzer explains.

Switzer says nearly 100% of the bulls brought into their lineup at Beef-360 are genotyped.

“It just gives us the peace of mind that they have an extra accuracy that we can go to the marketplace with,” he says.

The same also applies to females.

“I’ve seen commercial heifer sales where heifers who have that [genomic] data have brought more just because buyers know more about them.”

Boyd has seen similar trends in his business.

“I personally have the sense we are quickly going to where it will be difficult to market cattle if you’re not already going the extra step and getting those animals genotyped,” he says.

Ongoing impact

The widespread consensus seems to be genomics are here to stay. While many buyers and sellers might not be as reliant on specific pedigree numbers as the seedstock sector is, commercial producers are also impacted by genomic data.

Bullock says that in certain cases, like someone selling feeder calves, it’s more important to highlight the EPDs regardless of how much genotyping is behind them.

However, moving into the future, genomic data can help improve many traits that are extremely relevant to the commercial sector.

“I think what genomics is helping us with is to get better information on the traits we still aren’t doing a great job with,” Bullock explains. “These are things like reproduction traits and some other hard ones, like feedlot performance traits.”

Likewise, education and communication will continue to be important tools for buyers and sellers to use genomic data to its fullest potential.

Boyd gives an example where some people might prioritize percentile rankings as a good indicator of an animal’s value.

“But it’s not as predictable as when [genomic information] goes through the database system into the EPD,” he says.

Besides more accurate, personalized matings, genomics has provided greater ways for buyers and sellers to discuss, evaluate and collaborate throughout the purchase process. With ongoing education and thought, both sides can get the most out of their sold and purchased animals.  end mark

PHOTO: Genetic data has become an incredibly important part of EPDs. If you’re a buyer or seller, you’ll want to include that information to reflect the animal’s full value. Photo by Paul Marchant.

Jaclyn Krymowski is a freelancer based in Ohio.

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