WARNING: Detailed and Long Post. I wrote this to remind me of our selection goals and to hold myself accountable. If you’re not me or Larry from Madison, I suggest you skip this long post.
100% Calf Crop. If you’re a cow/calf producer and you aren’t weaning a calf from every cow, I’ve just saved you time by identifying what should be your #1 goal.
But, but, but. I know, you have more butts than a Piedmontese stud, and its your herd, and you aren’t going to take my word for it. Why should you? Who am I anyway?
I’ll tell you. I’m a guy who’s been farming his whole life, made most every mistake once, sometimes twice, (I’m a slow learner), and hung in there long enough that we make a living farming.
But you’re still not going to take my advice about your herd. And you shouldn’t. Its your herd.
So, where are you going with your herd? Can you verbalize your goals? Have you ever written them down.
Write down your goals!
You know who we lie to the most? Ourselves. Writing down your goals keeps you accountable to yourself.
I’ll use our farm as an example. These are the traits we’ve identified and written down as being top priority for our farm.
Our #1 trait is Disposition.
Why is Disposition our top trait? My work crew is 2 elderly parents, a wife, and a toddler.
I loaded two old bulls the other day with the help of my wife and Grandpa. Grandpa got to ride his 4 wheel drive ATV. My wife and I walked through ankle deep mud, and one of her boots leaks.
To inspire my wife’s courage I used audible cues, “Come on honey!” She came on. We got the bulls loaded and I hauled them to market.
At the end of a long day I looked for my supper and I realized it was going to be something I remember my mom serving my dad from time to time. In our family its a dish called, “Find it yourself.”
So yes, Disposition is going to stay at the top for the foreseeable future. We need to have cattle we can work with.
Our next most important trait is Calving Ease.
I anxiously watched my first heifer of the calving season try to push out a calf, Wednesday, April 6th, 2022. 20 mph wind was blowing rain sideways. We don’t have fancy calving barns so we wait until April to start calving here in southwest Wisconsin.
I told my wife we were going to have to wait until this heifer had her calf safely before we went to Platteville. We had planned an outing to Farm and Fleet, maybe lunch at Culver’s, but that was on hold while we waited.
And I prayed that the calving ease bull we used was truly easy calving, as it was not going to be easy to help this heifer if she had a problem. The pasture I have these heifers calving in is pretty nice, with stockpiled fescue, and hills for drainage, and draws to get out of the wind.
But it would not be easy to help her as we would have to walk her through the muddy winter hay feeding lot, up to the pen by the barn, and then either haul her to my parents corral or haul the catch chute up to my barn.
Well it took most of the morning, but the heifer had her calf unassisted, with my dedication to calving ease only strengthened. We missed our lunch at Culver’s, but happy to have a live calf.
I should mention we want both kinds of calving ease, direct and maternal. Direct calving ease estimates how easily a bull’s calves will be born. Maternal calving ease estimates how well a bull’s daughters will calve.
The final trait we select is Soundness. And by Soundness I mean feet and legs, breeding, and udder.
If your cow can’t walk because of long hooves or poor legs, she won’t stay in the herd. If the bull and cow can’t connect, no calf. And if the newborn calf can’t stand up and put his mouth around a functioning teat, Matthew has to stop whatever else he’s doing and get the cow into the corral and help the calf nurse.
The first Soundness traits keep you in the cattle business. The last Soundness trait keeps me from being annoyed, and since I don’t like being annoyed, its definitely staying in our Soundness criteria.
For our farm, that’s it! 3 Traits, Disposition, Calving Ease, and Soundness. If you think I’m cheating by subgrouping 3 traits into soundness, then fine, call it 5 traits we select.
What do you select? Keep in mind, the more traits you select, the less emphasis and progress you can make on any one trait.
What don’t we select? Off the top of my head, weaning weight, yearling weight, milk, maintenance energy, average daily gain, dry matter intake, marbling, carcass weight, yield. And everything else, except for one trait I forgot to mention.
We like red cattle. Most of our neighbors have black cattle. We like red cattle, so we select red cattle. Maybe you don’t care what color your cattle are, fine, its your herd.
What traits do you select?
Remember to keep it simple! The more traits you select, the less progress you will make in any trait.
Let’s take a ludicrous example and say that you and a buddy have talked it over and decided that cattle need long tails to swat flies. The longer the better. You both decide to add tail length to your selection criteria.
Now this is a great trait to make progress on, because its measurable, and most likely highly heritable. All you have to do is measure tail length at a consistent time in your cattle’s life, select the best, and breed the best to the best. You will increase the tail length in your cattle.
Now your buddy is a reasonable person, and she likes well balanced cattle, so while she does select for tail length, she also selects for disposition, calving ease, weaning and yearling weight, and she does a little direct marketing of beef, so she even looks at the marbling EPD.
You, on the other hand, are not a reasonable person. You don’t care about anything besides tail length. You measure tails and you breed the best to the best.
Now let’s say you and your buddy are consistent in your selection and keep after this for several years, several generations, who is going to have cattle with longer tails?
Your buddy may have well balanced cattle with beautiful tails, but you, you unreasonable person, will have cattle that can swat a fly off the tip of their nose!
When people talk about long tailed cattle, your name will go down as the visionary, the pioneer. You’ll be the Thomas Edison of long tailed cattle.
Now depending on what traits long tails in cattle is correlated with, will determine what your cattle look like. Maybe they’ll be tall, wild, quiet, easy calving or require c sections to calve. You don’t care. You wanted long tails and you got them!
So, I ask you, what do you want? And will you have the guts to go after it? And will you have the courage to hold yourself accountable and write it down?