written by Matt Woolfolk, ASA director of performance programs
With most of the Shorthorn bull sales completed by the time you read this (hopefully you got the bull you wanted), it’s time to shift focus to breeding season. There’s plenty of decision making to be made in your breeding program, from breeding pasture size and availability, cow to bull ratio (don’t overload the young guys), and whether to use AI or natural breeding. This month, we will focus on the breeding and mating decision aspect of the season and how you can use Digital Beef to plan matings and identify genetics to add to your herd. As always, it is important to have goals for your breeding program headed into planning your matings for the coming year. Take the time to study your own herd (genetically and phenotypically) and determine where improvements can be made in the next generation. It’s hard to get where you want to go if you don’t know where that is!
There are many ways to utilize the online breed registry to help you during breeding season planning, both from the female and male sides of the equation. Starting with the females, the “Reports” section of Digital Beef is a good resource. Utilizing the “Production Summary” report pulls together the production records on all your active females. It’s essentially the report card of your cow herd. The system will pull together all your cows, and all recorded data on their progeny, giving you the ability to see which cows are making the grades and which ones may need some time in detention! To get a better look at EPDs in the cow herd, I love using the “Custom Report Builder” feature. The Custom Report allows you to focus on the information that is of most interest to your breeding program. Reports can be pulled based on age and sex, and you can select which data points, production info, and EPDs you want presented to you on the final spreadsheet that is output at the end. This is my go-to method to efficiently study data on groups of females.
After studying those females, you might decide that AI is the most effective way to infuse the genetics that will take you towards your destination the quickest. The EPD Search function is a good option for identifying those potential AI sire candidates. Via “Search Tools” at the top of your Digital Beef page, you’re taken to the EPD search where you can enter your parameters a potential sire needs to meet. In addition to EPD thresholds (minimum and/or maximums), you can sort purebreds only, by color, and if a bull has sired registered progeny to date. Once you input search parameters, the search will give back to you a list of bulls that meet your criteria, their entire EPD profile, and a link to their individual animal page in the registry to allow for further study. You will want to enter a couple different EPD criteria into the search (to narrow the list some), but also don’t want to have criteria for every EPD (yield no matches). The message on the screen “fetching results…please be patient” needs to be adhered to, as it takes a few minutes to search the whole database. Clicking the button to start the search again just takes you back to square one and will make the process even longer.
Once you’ve identified some prospect sires, you can see how they complement your cow herd on paper using the Progeny Calculator tool in Digital Beef. You can find this feature under the Tools menu. The Progeny Calculator tool gives you a quick glimpse into projected EPD profiles of a sire (herd bull or AI) for calves out of your females. For a more in-depth discussion of this tool, you can reference back to my article in the November 2021 issue of the Country.
Best of luck with your upcoming breeding season. Hopefully, the information that Digital Beef puts at your fingertips gives you the opportunity to move your breeding program in the direction you want to take it in your pursuit of breeding better Shorthorns. If you have any questions about any of the features mentioned in this article, feel free to shoot me an email (matt@ shorthorn.org).