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I’m sure there are many people who will disagree with the following analysis, but please bear with me.. . it is merely food for thought, or maybe the ramblings of someone stuck in the “old school”.

We live in a world that is run by computers, statistics, polls, and “bottom line” numbers. I am now part of the world, as I am writing this on a computer, updating the numbers on my herd bulls, advertising on the internet, and trying to figure out if I will make a profit - - but I didn’t grow up in that world. This opinion is directed mainly at the younger, upcoming generation of Angus breeders who are growing up in that world. I have supreme confidence in their abilities, however, I feel that the direction they are being shown in evaluating, selecting, and marketing of Angus cattle has lost a lot of its personal touch in deference to the number game...

During the last fifteen years of raising Angus cattle and submitting data to the AngusAssociation’s Herd Improvement Program (AHIR), I have witnessed a large, and what I feel is a somewhat unnecessary expansion of data collection. When I first started in 1991, there were EPDs for Birth, Wean, Milk, and Yearling, as well as a lesser used “Combined” (Milk and Weaning) which was similar to Hereford EPDs, and was later abandoned. Later, a scrotal EPD was added, then a few years later, ultrasound carcass information was collected. These can be rather confusing EPDs, and it led to a new set of “pseudo EPDs” to help interpret the “real ultrasound carcass data”. Now we have added to this, Beef Value, Feedlot Value, Wean Value, and Grid Value to “define what the ultrasound carcass and other EPDs translates into”, in terms of a dollar value. This is also in addition to “real” carcass EPDs (as opposed to ultrasound) taken from animals which were actually hung on the rail and graded, and these numbers never seem to align themselves with ultrasound EPDs.


Because of the ultrasound carcass rage of the last five or six years, much of the breeding of Angus cattle has focused on single trait breeding concerns, such as marbling, or backfat, and have ignored many of the inherent traits that have given Angus cattle their edge in functionality. In my own studies I found, quite by accident, that the higher the retail product EPD is proportionally, the lower the scrotal EPD is. This is true in probably 80% of the searches that I made, and with a few exceptions, helped explain to me why many of the highly rated carcass sires (which are currently some of the most highly used sires) were so inconsistent in their fertility, especially on the female side. Now, because the “single trait breeding pendulum” has begun to swing back the other direction due to decreasing fertility in some cowherds, the Angus Association has created yet another three EPDs to go with the twenty-three combined EPDs previously mentioned. Altogether, that makes twenty-six EPDs, and this does not include actual weights and ratios! Confusing???

Maybe I am just too simple minded to process this much information, but it is distressing to me to see good cattlemen become entangled in a system to the point where it impairs their innate cattle abilities, and sometimes their better judgment.

Initially, the EPD system was intended as an aid to enhance cattle breeder’s selections. EPDs which have an accuracy about 90% can be useful, because the data is an accumulation from actual offspring. Many of my suspicions come from interim EPDs as­ signed to virgin animals. We truly can’t say what their offspring will be like until we have a sample calf crop, yet many cattlemen have become addicted to that system, and are disappointed when their new bull doesn’t “fit the numbers”. (Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around - - the numbers fit the bull, after a large sample test is submitted??) Because of the over emphasis placed on extremes in EPDs, it seems that in many programs the EPDs numbers have become the ends and not them means. In my opinion, the EPD system has become a rather ponderous and flawed system with intentions that are no longer for trait selection, but for trait marketing -- that is, no longer intended to be a trait indicator, but a contest to see how extreme the numbers on an animal can be, based on “number breeding”.

Did the cattle get that much better, as the EPDs would indicate, or did we change the handling of the numbers to fit some breeder’s needs of “more is better”? It is enlightening to look at photos of old bulls used during the early part of the 20th century. I’ve seen pictures of a few bulls from that era that I would love to try, if only it were possible! I could go into this topic at length, but suffice it to say that as a result of all of this, I have found myself deserting the EPD system in my own method of trait selection. I still will oc­ casionally look at EPDs. I’ve looked into the old studies of Jon Bonsma, Gerald Fry, and James Drayson, to name a few. I try to listen to breeders who have been doing this for years, David Baird, the Arntzen Family, Jim Wilson, Clarence Van Dyke, Jon Alberda, Tom Walling, etc. just to name a few, because there is a wealth of wisdom there, that has come from hard experience. These are things that I hope our young, future breeders of cattle (all breeds) can cash in on, and will truly give them an edge!

Finally . . .

However, given my ambivalence to EPDs, rest assured that I continue to take and provide as accurate data as possible. As a breeder, it would be irresponsible of me not to provide good dependable data for my customers who depend on this! Here are a few items that can be useful: (or just google Gerald Fry).

The web site for Gerald Fry. The parts to look at are “Linear Measuring” and “Ultrasound Testing”. You will find information that is not a part of the CUP training, and measuring of animals that is very different than the pound based EPD system. I’ve had the opportunity to ultrasound and measure some animals with Mr. Fry, and it was an eye opener!

Bonsma, Jon: Man Must Measure: Livestock Production, Cody, WY 1983

Much of this book is based on research done by Bonsma in the 1940’s and 50’s, in South Africa. Much of it doesn’t apply to our climate, and a person has to sift through what is applicable, and what is not. The sections on measurement and glands are enlightening. Some of his work is difficult to find, but at times is available on Gerald Fry’s web site.

Drayson, James E.: Herd Bull Fertility, Austin, TX 1982.

Some of this may appear to be obvious, but this book was written from 20 years of research done at Montana State University where thousands of bulls were looked at. Carney Redman assisted in much of the hands on research, and some interesting observations have been passed on by him, via David Baird.

Cheryl & Gary Godley

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