Take a look at the following table comparing weaning weights, Milk EPDs and Weaning Weight EPDs from our 2017 calf crop.

Ranch Manager 2017 Avg WW 2017 AVG WW ADJ to 205 days AVG Milk EPD of Cows AVG WW EPD of Cows
Bill 705 590 17 33
Cole 601 548 17 34
Clayton 531 531 17 33
Angus Breed Avg. Current Dams 23 45

I have to admit, the thought of putting this table on paper made me cringe. I can hear Dad saying now, “I told you I am a better manager AND a better breeder than you two.” I guarantee Clayton and I will never hear the end of it!

Actually, the table is pretty eye opening (and not because dad is so much smarter). The cows from all three ranches are essentially the same genetically. They are mixed ages of cows with very similar pedigrees and very similar EPDs. You can see from the table that the average Milk and Weaning EPDs are almost identical. So why are the weaning weights so different? It is simply because of the environment. Dad had a good year at Estancia, the cows never struggled and they raised really big calves. At Yeso, we had a decent spring, then we got super dry in May, June and July, followed by a good fall. At Clayton’s, we had a pretty dry year from start to finish on a large part of the ranch while part of the ranch had a good summer and fall.

Environment (real and artificial) plays a huge role in actual weaning weight. Some ranches are going to wean bigger calves because they are in better country or because they receive more rain. These are real environmental differences we cannot control. A cake truck or a creep feeder can both artificially inflate the environment and significantly change weaning weight.

As most of you know we don’t believe it is profitable to “artificially inflate” an environment with feed just to have bigger weaning weights. We believe making the right kind of cow that fits in your environment is of the utmost importance. This starts with a female that can get bred early and on time, even in the tough years. In our environment, this cow needs to be moderate in size and milk production.

To say we don’t select for weaning weight at all would be inaccurate. We look at weaning weight EPDs and we expect our 1,100 and 1,200 pound cows to raise 50 percent of their body weight. Most years this is a 550 to 650 pound calf. As you can see in the table, this is with cows that are below breed average for WW EPD. We are ok with that. In all reality, we think our cows’ WW EPDs are just about where they need to be. And the cows fit their environment very well. We have no intentions of raising low-growth cattle… It just is not profitable to raise the wrong type of cows (big, heavy milking and high cost) just to chase weaning weight growth.

Weaning weight EPDs have continue to creep up in most major breeds. However, according to SW-SPA data (Southwest Cow-Calf Standardized Performance Analysis), actual weaning weights in commercial herds are not increasing. So, if cattle have more growth potential than ever, why aren’t weaning weights going up in commercial herds? Essentially, genetic potential for growth has out-paced what most range environments can provide nutritionally. In our herd, when we have bred to popular, high weaning weight sires we have not realized any increase in pounds weaned. Instead we’ve ended up with bigger, higher milking, higher maintenance cows that have struggled to get bred.

The point is – increase your growth and milk EPDs with CAUTION. Buying bulls with higher weaning weight EPDs and higher milk EPDs may raise your weaning weights… or it may not. It may increase the size of your replacement females and increase the maintenance cost of your cowherd. Open cows with high WW EPDs aren’t what we want and aren’t what our customers need either.