Of the many good points in Mr. Teichert’s article, Progress vs. Change, what hit me was the difficulty in translating EPDs into positive economic change. While it is easy to increase one or a few EPDs with selection pressure it is much harder to gauge the unintended consequences caused by that selection pressure. For example, it seems logical for a producer who sells calves to select solely for higher weaning weight EPD. However, this would likely increase the maintenance cost of the producer’s cowherd through increased milk production and cow mature size. All the while weaning weights likely would not increase as much as predicted! Weaning weight EPDs are calculated using adjusted weaning weights exclusively from registered herds. Adjusted weaning weights give an advantage to longer gestation cattle over shorter gestation. Adjusted EPDs also give an advantage towards later calving cows over early calving cows. Furthermore, environmental factors effect gene expression (the extra weaning weight expressed on a creep feed diet may not translate into any extra pounds in a limited feed New Mexico desert). The point is always be skeptical of the claim “Cattle that do it all!”
This does not mean that average cattle are the most profitable. We simply believe that all factors must be taken into account when making breeding decisions. Increasing growth EPDs does not come without a cost. Selection decisions (seedstock and commercial) should be made considering net income for the cowherd instead of gross income per cow.
It seems the majority of Angus breeders continue to focus on maximizing EPDs (growth and carcass traits) versus balanced selection. From 2002 to 2012 average EPDs for weaning weight increased from +33 to +48, yearling weight from +60 to +86, marbling from +.28 to +.50 and ribeye from +.10 to +.48. At the same time milk EPD increased from +16 to +24 and mature weight from +27 to +35. Keep in mind that recent MARC research found that the average mature angus female weighed 1400 lbs!
We use EPDs in our selection decisions however our targets are much different than most Angus breeders. We want our cattle to be well below breed average for mature weight EPD. Our target milk EPD is in the mid teens with some variation to fit our customers different individual environments. We prefer our cattle to be short gestation and select for below average birth weight EPD. Within that framework we make incremental increases in growth and carcass traits.
Other than taking more weights and measurements, our cows are treated just like a low-input commercial herd. Cows that are too big, too high milking and simply too high maintenance weed themselves out pretty quickly. We are dedicated to breeding cattle that will increase herd profit and not simply have impressive EPDS.