Cow Camp Chatter
Dam Side of the Pedigree
Ron Torell, Long-Standing Educator and Advocate of Agriculture
What do you look for in your quest for the perfect bull? What questions do you ask your seed stock producer when contemplating sire selection? When selecting a bull, buyers generally concentrate on the top or sire side of the pedigree relying entirely on visual appraisal and Expected Progeny Differences (EPD’s). Seldom are seed stock producers asked about the bottom or dam side of the pedigree. Buyers may show little interest in viewing the young bull’s mother or her life-long performance records.
An important consideration when deciding on a bull is to include the dam side of the pedigree especially if female offspring are to be kept for replacements. The brood cow factory is the foundation of a cow herd for both the registered seed stock producer and the commercial cattleman. A lot is expected of our four-legged employees. We count on their ability to produce a saleable calf every 365 days from age two to ten years by converting low quality fiber into sufficient body condition allowing them to reproductively cycle and breed back within 84 days of calving. Brood cows must have the leg and skeletal structure that permits them to travel great distances harvesting grass. They must have the gut capacity to pack away large quantities of low quality forage so the rumen bugs can do their job. Additionally, they must have all the convenience traits that factor directly in to the economics of time, facilities, vaccines, and labor. These traits include calving ease, mothering ability, well-attached udders with small, well-placed teats, good dispositions, and the propensity to be easy fleshers.
Logan Ipsen, western regional manager for the American Angus Association suggests bull buyers request and look at genomic EPDs on the dam side. “Not all seed stock producers will have this information for it is relatively new. Genomic profiles are a way to enhance our current selection tools achieving more accuracy on predictions for younger animals and to characterize genetics for traits which are extremely difficult to measure. The great thing about EPD’s is the accuracy based off our database which has analyzed over 19 million records through the American Angus Association. These EPD's are now enhanced with available genomic information.”
One major benefit of purchasing registered seed stock is access to known genetics with an historical record of the mother cow’s performance. Production data can be viewed for each of the calves this cow has produced as well as her pedigree and EPD's for all the traits listed for the potential bull purchase. If the average calving interval for a particular cow is far outside 365 days, a red flag should be raised relative to reproductive performance. Study the cow’s average birth, weaning and yearling ratios for the calves she’s produced to date. A “100” would indicate average for the herd where as a “98” would indicate 2% below the herd average. Young cows are not going to have nearly the available data or accuracy as the older cows since they haven’t had the opportunity to prove themselves through production. Offspring from older cows can be purchased with a greater degree of certainty than those of younger cows. The cow’s pedigree will ensure that the purchase of a potential young sire is free from genetic defects. Please note that since these records are pass code protected by their respective breed associations, you will need to view them together with your seed stock producer.
One of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon an Angus cow is to be recognized as a pathfinder. The Pathfinder Angus program was started in 1978 in an effort to identify superior cows in the breed based on their records of performance from Angus Herd Improvement Records (AHIR). In identifying these superior cows, emphasis was placed on traits such as early puberty, breeding and early calving, followed by regularity of calving and above-average performance of the offspring. While outstanding cows can be identified after their first or second calves, the Pathfinder Report requires a minimum of three calves from a cow to determine her regularity of calving and ability to produce superior calves for weaning weight year after year. An important part of the report is the list of bulls that have sired five or more qualifying females. Other associations have similar programs for female distinction.
When contemplating the purchase of a bull, hold the seed stock producer to their word. Visit their operation. Look at the conditions under which their registered herd is produced. Are these conditions anywhere similar to those you ask your commercial cows to produce in? Check weigh or visually appraise a few of the producing mother cows. Is the producer’s definition of "moderate frame" the same as yours? Ask questions. Do they collect chute scores for disposition or monitor udders with an accepted scoring system? Visually appraise flesh, leg structure and general physical characteristic of the dam in question. Are the ranch’s working facilities and infrastructure adequate and appear to be paid solely by revenues generated by cattle sales? Inquire about management practices of the cow herd such as feed resources, supplementation strategies and general management philosophies. Determine if the managers and owners are good stewards of the land.
It is not the intent of this article to down play the importance of utilizing EPD's and visual appraisal during the selection process of purchasing a bull. Rather it is to suggest you include the mother side of the pedigree in that very important sire selection decision, especially if you are retaining replacement females for your farm or ranch. The future of your cow herd’s production may depend on it.
That’s enough for this month. As always, if you would like to discuss this article or simply want to talk cows, do not hesitate to contact me at 775-385-7665 or firstname.lastname@example.org.