At The Grill feature by William Torres. Data Management: EPDs… are they as easy as 123?

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (former Research Manager at Cattleland Feedyards and popular presenter at Gentec conferences) focuses the ABCs of your EPDs, how to maximize your cattle selection without focusing on too much data to make decisions, and how to help your bottom line.

Have you ever looked at a bull sale catalogue and thought you might need a PhD to figure out what they’re trying to sell you? I mean… how much data is too much data??

At the end of the day, the people trying to sell these animals want to make the most amount of money and offer you all the most relevant information. But if you’re trying to purchase an animal, you want the opposite: the best genetics for the least amount of money.

So what it really comes down to is doing your homework and understanding your needs (much like purchasing a new car). The part most of us struggle with is EPDs and the other information that we’re not sure we really understand. So let’s recap… what is an EPD?

According to the Beef Cattle Research Council, Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) are estimates of an animal’s genetic merit as a parent. In plain English, this how to predict the specific performance of a bull’s progeny compared to the performance of another bull’s progeny. The keywords here are PREDICT and COMPARE. EPDs for one animal are meaningless unless you compare them to the EPD of another animal.

So, if Sire A has a birth weight EPD of 4.0 and Sire B has a birth weight EPD of -2.0, then calves from Sire B might average 6 pounds lighter at birth than calves from Sire A, assuming the bulls are randomly mated in the same herd (most EPDs are designed to compare sires within a same breed). That is, until multi-breed EPDs come into the picture, like Feed Efficiency for example.

Now that we’re clear as mud, we should be able to buy the best, right? But what is the best? Let’s go back to buying a car. When I used to test bulls for feed efficiency, the question was always, “How do I sell these for the most money?” Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. In any given feed efficiency test, there will be winners and losers. Think of it like an eating contest; if you and I compete against each other, only one of us can win. But the bottom line is, you need to sell ALL those bulls.

Selling is an art form. Whether you’re selling cars or bulls, you need to know the needs of the purchaser. Not everyone has the budget to buy a$100,000 bull (or car), But everyone who walked into the lot (or bull sale), is there to buy something. What are they looking for? Here are some examples:

Horsepower = Birth weight, weaning weight
Fuel efficiency = Average daily gain, conversion, feed efficiency
Longevity = sustainability

On the buyer side of the house, you need to consider your specific production goal. For example, if you sell your calves at weaning, you need to prioritize the EPDs differently than producers who retain ownership through the feedlot. A start-up cow-calf operation will most likely have different budgets and needs than a well-established outfit. Regardless of your needs, don’t be afraid to ask the seller what things really mean. Or contact John Basarab, Director of Beef Operations here at Gentec for help.

Posted in Industry.