An In-Depth Look at Selection Indices: Part 1

A hot topic in the hallway at the ASA Annual Meeting in Kansas City was the use of selection indices and the tools we have available in the Shorthorn breed. Selection index technology wasn’t an official topic in the educational forum, but I believe there was a lot of interest and educating going on among many breeders in attendance. There was a lot of good information and philosophy spread amongst breeders, and I hate that everyone couldn’t be in attendance to be a part of these discussions. That spurred the idea to spend a few months writing about selection indices, how they work, and what we have available in the Shorthorn breed at this time for you to use in your breeding programs. In order to get the best view we can at the whole picture, I think it’s only fitting that we start with the basics before diving into the more specific material.

The development of selection indices in the beef cattle industry are a relatively new addition to genetic evaluations. After EPDs came along, the idea to combine some of those genetic predictors into a single figure to attempt to gauge economic and genetic merit led to the implementation of the selection index. A selection index is intended to give a cattleman a relative economic value for an individual animal when in a specific production scenario. Traits that are important to a scenario are identified and included in an equation. The traits in the equation are weighted based on their economic value in the individual production scenario. Depending on the situation, some traits will be weighted significantly in the calculations, while others may only play a small role in the final output. Simply put, a selection index is like a long, complicated algebra formula, but instead of just X and Y for variables, there are a LOT more, with some indices having nearly enough components to have variables A through Z!

Usually, an association will offer several selection index options to their membership to try and meet several of their breeding objectives. Each index is calculated from a specific production situation, and it is important to know and understand those situations when studying an index. An index built for a breeding program of mature cows may not be as effective for you if you are looking to breed heifers. An index built with retained ownership of feeder cattle in mind may not quite fit your needs (or the needs of your customers) if selling calves at weaning is your main objective. Of course, whatever index is available to you may not be a perfect fit for your operation, but there’s a good chance that one or more indices will fit the needs of your program pretty well.

A selection index is designed to help breeders improve genetic merit without the drawbacks of single trait selection that can sometimes occur when using a single EPD to make breeding decisions. We all know that multiple traits must be taken into consideration when evaluating what makes profitable cattle in any situation, and a selection index is the best tool we have of predicting which animals can work in an environment.

The American Shorthorn Association has four available selection indices available for breeder use in their mating and selection decisions. They include $Calving Ease, $British Maternal Index, $Feedlot and $Fescue. In future issues, I will go into more detail about the components and uses of each index. Identifying traits of importance, the production scenarios designed for each index, and how we can use them as Shorthorn breeders and commercial seedstock producers will be discussed.

In the ever changing world of beef cattle genetic evaluation and selection, the use of the selection index is growing increasingly popular with commercial bull buyers. As providers of commercial seedstock, I hope that you feel it is part of your responsibility to understand and assist your customers in finding and using the proper selection index that meets their operation’s criteria. Hopefully, I will be able to fulfill my responsibility to give you the information you need to accomplish this goal over the next few articles!

NEW BOARD MEMBERS AND OFFICERS

During the American Shorthorn Association Annual Meeting on December 1, delegates from all over the country gathered to elect new ASA board members.

The nominating committee submitted three candidates for the available positions. Hugh Mooney, a board member from California, was elected for his second term. John Sonderman from Columbus, Nebraska, and Toby Jordan from Rensselaer, Indiana, were elected for their first term to the ASA board. They will serve a three-year term.

Following the Annual Meeting, the board met to elect new officers, for the nine-member board. The new president of the board is Rick Leone of Colorado, vice-president is Nancy Grathwohl-Heter of Kansas, and the executive director is Hugh Mooney of California. They serve alongside Tom Turner of Ohio, Joe Bales of Tennessee, Robert Alden of Missouri, Dave Greenhorn of Ohio, Toby Jordan of Indiana, and John Sonderman of Nebraska.

AMERICAN SHORTHORN ASSOCIATION INTRODUCES GENOMIC TESTING INCENTIVE

In an effort to encourage breeders to genomically test more Shorthorn females, ASA is introducing the Genomically Enhanced Heifer Program (GEHP).

ASA will be offering incentive to breeders who take advantage of the uLD (25k) or 50k genomic test on their heifer crops. All heifers tested as a part of this program will have genomically-enhanced EPDs.

Breeders whose animals are eligible will receive a credit on their ASA account for a portion of the cost of the uLD or 50k genomic tests done on replacement heifers. This will give breeders the opportunity to genomically test females at a significantly discounted rate.

For a heifer to be eligible for the testing rebate, the following requirements must be met:

  1. Heifer must be born on or after January 1, 2017
  2. 75% of the yearling heifer inventory must be tested
  3. All heifers tested must have a recorded calving ease score, birth weight, weaning weight & yearling weight
  4. Heifers with recorded carcass ultrasound or feed intake records will receive an additional rebate

“The GEHP will allow Shorthorn breeders to add valuable genomic information to the future of their cow herds: the replacement heifers,” said Matt Woolfolk, ASA Director of Performance Programs. “ Additionally, the program will allow us to strengthen the ASA genomic database, which will significantly aid us in our commitment to offer the best genetic selection tools possible to ASA membership.”

If you have questions about this program, please contact Matt Woolfolk at ASA (matt@shorthorn.org).

STATE ASSOCIATION CO-OP ADVERTISING PROGRAM UPDATED GUIDELINES

STATE ASSOCIATION CO-OP ADVERTISING PROGRAM

  1. The state association coop advertising program is designed to help ASA and state associations share the cost of promoting the Shorthorn breed.
  2. Advertisement requests must be made by state association’s president, vice-president or secretary manager. Advertisements cannot be requested by groups of breeders or individuals.
  3. The ASA will reimburse 50% of the ad cost, up to a total of $650 per state per fiscal year.
  4. There are limited coop funds available for states in each fiscal year. No more coop ads will be funded when available funds have been utilized.
  5. Each state association must pay advertisement and send paid invoice to ASA to be reimbursed. ASA encourages the state association to include a copy of the ad placed with paid invoice.
  6. ASA will have 4 general ad choices and 2 contract ads for state associations to choose from. ASA encourages states to use contract ads for more Shorthorn promotion throughout the year.
    1. General Ads are a minimum of a quarter page in size and not larger than a full page in size.
    2. Contract Ads cannot be smaller than 1 column by 2 inches.
    3. Ads will have space to include the state association logo and contact information.
    4. Ads will include the ASA logo and contact information.
    5. Ads can include state events, dates and locations but not individual breeder information and dates.
    6. All ad requests must be submitted to ASA at least 5 business days before deadline. Ads will not be eligible for ad copy approval if received less than 10 business days before deadline.
  7. State Associations must provide the following ad specs to the ASA.
    1. Publication name, phone number and email address
    2. Ad Deadline
    3. Ad Size
    4. Full Color or Black & White
    5. State Association information to be included in ad
  8. State associations are required to meet above guidelines in order to be eligible to receive reimbursement for coop ads.

Guidelines updated September 26, 2018

College Tips from the Interns

College can be overwhelming and stressful at points. Here are some of our tips to make sure you have a successful semester at college.

  1. Get involved.

There is an organization for everyone at college. Try out several organizations and find a couple that fit for you. Getting involved in organizations within your major is a great way to make connections with other students, faculty and even alumni. Be careful because it is easy to get over involved — make sure to find a few organizations that work with your schedule.

  1. Get to know your professors and faculty within your department.

Getting to know those involved in your department can open a lot of doors for you. Professors are more likely to lend a helping hand to a familiar face, whether it be with class-related things or helping with connections. If you can, try to sit in the front row of your classes so professors get used to seeing your face and notice your presence!

  1. Take advantage of a free meal when you can get it.

You would be surprised with  how many free meals you can get in college! My freshman year I was living on campus and at least once a week (normally more) there would be an organization giving out free pizza or social nights with free ice cream. Definitely take advantage of these! Money will get tighter during your college days, so anything free is a plus and it’s also a great way socialize.

  1. Learn your way of studying.

Studying can be difficult, especially if you never had to study in high school. It is important to find your way of studying early on in your college career. This might be reviewing before you go to each class, or maybe it’s making flashcards. Find a strategy that works for you that you can stick with.

  1. Study abroad.

Studying abroad is a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, while also experiencing different cultures. Study abroad agricultural programs allow you to experience different scales of agriculture and production methods you are unfamiliar with. You would be surprised with how different the world varies in agricultural practices.

  1. Attend networking events.

Networking can often seem intimidating and nerve-racking, but it is an essential skill to learn. Try attending events as soon as you can, even as a freshman, so you can practice your skills connecting with others. If your school hosts career fairs, attend and talk to recruiters for practice, even if you aren’t looking for a job right away. This will make you feel more comfortable in the future when you begin seriously looking for a job.

  1. Find a balance.

This can make or break you when you go to college. You need to figure out how to balance schoolwork with social life, working, and trying to stay healthy. It’s not always easy, but once you adjust to being on your own and making your own choices you’ll be fine!

  1. Sleep is important.

Sometimes you can get so overwhelmed with school, work, activities and studying you forget an important factor in it all: sleep. All-nighters are necessary at some points, but not constantly. Know the amount of sleep you need to be productive during the day.

  1. Find a buddy in each class.

This can be the most important one at times. You never know when you’ll need to miss class and notes. Also, study buddies are a great reso

urce to learn from each other.

  1. Your friends will change, and that’s okay.

It’s important to know you may not stay best friends with people you grew up with just because you go to the same college. Do try to stay in contact and don’t forget about your hometown friends, but don’t be afraid to branch out and be open minded to making new friends.

New Shorthorn EPDs Now Available

The much anticipated IGS Single-Step Genetic Evaluation powered by BOLT is finally here! You can find the new single-step EPDs in DigitalBeef. Going forward, we plan to upload new EPDs on Mondays at noon Central time.

We hope you take the time to review the new EPDs to get a grasp on how the new run might differ from previous evaluations. Please realize that just like the implementation of any new program in any business, there are likely to be some minor issues that will need to be resolved. The IGS team has spent months and countless man hours to make this new genetic evaluation system as strong as possible, and even this team of elite scientists will experience some hiccups.

Please take notice that breed averages have changed and some of the traits in our EPD lineup will look different.  We have resources available to help with some of the questions you may have with the new system. We will circulate these resources via the ASA website, Insider e-newsletter, social media, and the Shorthorn Country. As a starting point, please reference the March and April Shorthorn Country issues for articles discussing some of the FAQ associated with the new single-step EPDs.

We have reviewed the new EPDs for several hundred of the breed’s leading sires by registrations to get an overview of what to expect with the new EPD calculations. We are not physically able to review every animal in the database, especially with the transition to the new weekly runs. One great advantage to moving to weekly runs is that discovered issues can be resolved more quickly in comparison to the previous schedule of new EPD calculations every six months.

Please contact the ASA office with questions.

ASA Office: 816-599-7777

matt@shorthorn.org


For more information about BOLT, check out the links below.

What to Expect with BOLT

FAQ Multi-breed Genetic Evaluation

Single Step EPDs – Sounding Like a Broken Record

BOLT Trends

BOLT Progeny Equivalents

BOLT Information from IGS

 

 

Contemporary Grouping: Why, When, and How

Proper contemporary groups are just as important to our database and genetic evaluation as proper data collection. Data and contemporary groups build on each other in order to have a strong genetic evaluation. Contemporary groups can be a bit overwhelming, and rightfully so. Knowing which animals belong together in one group or another can take some time to fully grasp. It’s a topic that has been covered many times, but a little refresher course hasn’t ever hurt anyone. Hopefully by sharing some background information and a few helpful hints, your understanding of contemporary grouping will become clearer.

Why We Need Contemporary Groups
As you know, not all weights and measures are created equally because not all cattle are managed in identical environments.

So how do we use data in genetic evaluations when it’s not all collected on an equal playing field? By utilizing proper contemporary groups! Our EPD calculations are driven by comparisons in performance between animals, rather than actual measurements for a trait. Contemporary groups are used to define which animals are to be compared to each other within a herd. By making sure we compare the right animals to each other, we get the best information available to fuel the EPD calculations. Having weights recorded is important, but having the right weights recorded in a contemporary group together is equally necessary.

When to Worry with Contemporary Groups
I commonly get asked when in the production cycle to start paying attention to contemporary groups. The answer is the day your first calf is born, and every time you collect a new piece of data in your herd. Contemporary groups start when birth records are recorded. It is important to ensure that you have your calves grouped correctly at birth, because all subsequent contemporary groups are based off the initial birth groups. The largest contemporary groups will always be for birth records, since cattle can only be removed from the original contemporary group over time. Every time a new data point is collected, the contemporary group should be examined for animals that might have been treated differently and are no longer fairly compared to the rest of the group. Once an animal is no longer on the same playing field (either advantaged or disadvantaged), they need to be regrouped. If you have a calf that gets really sick between birth and weaning, or if you choose some calves to begin prepping for the show barn, those cattle should be removed from the larger contemporary group. When collecting data such as weaning, yearling, or ultrasound, the date of data collection also dictates contemporary groups. All the calves that need to be in the same weaning contemporary group need to have their weaning weights taken on the same day. If there are multiple weighing days, then you will have multiple contemporary groups.

How to Build Your Contemporary Groups
There are some rules you will want to follow when putting your cattle into the proper contemporary groups. The sex of calf is a major factor, always sorting heifers and bulls into their own groups at birth, and then into heifers, steers, and bulls for any data collected from weaning onward. Grouping calves by calving season is also important. Most breeders calve in smaller windows and don’t have to worry too much with season. However, if you don’t have a tight calving season, it is recommended to group your birth contemporaries into 90-day windows to get a fair comparison. Obviously, management and location are a major factor. If you run cows on multiple ranches, then you will have contemporary groups for each ranch. Fortunately, Digital Beef does a pretty good job of covering some of these bases for you. If you need to manually put cattle into different groups, there are functions available to help you do so, such as the “Season” (birth recording) and “Mgmt” (Weaning) options when recording data.As always, we want to help you if you have any questions with your contemporary groups. Not only does having them done correctly benefit you, but also the rest of the breed as we continue to build our database. A stronger database is the foundation for better EPD calculations.

 

2017 ASA/University of Illinois Sire Test Early Results

Early results are in from the 2017 ASA Sire Test with the University of Illinois, and Shorthorn genetics look to be proving their mettle in a real-world commercial setting. Even though they are heavily involved in cow-calf research, the University of Illinois runs their cow herd as close to a no-nonsense commercial operation as you will find in any university system. It’s a great opportunity to work with cattle that are forced to work in tight breeding seasons, have quality udders, and maintain themselves while raising a calf on minimal supplementation. A special thanks to the breeders who participated in the 2017 Sire Test. Without your support, we wouldn’t be able to gather this valuable information that will help move the Shorthorn breed towards our goals of growing commercial acceptance for our cattle. From September 8- October 4, 151 Shorthorn-sired calves were born, with 91% of the calves born in the 17 day window from September 13- September 30. Using UI’s SimAngus cow herd resulted in 123 black-hided calves, 15 black calves with white markings/blue roans, and 13 red hided calves. These calves were raised without creep feed until weaning on February 14, 2018. After some time to precondition the cattle, they will be shipped to the UI Farm near the university campus this month, where they will go on feed. Data collection in this phase of the trial will include gain, feed efficiency, and eventually carcass data. Initial reports indicate that these weights stack up comparably to other calves within the UI herd, showcasing the value of Shorthorns as the British breed crossbreeding solution. Keep in mind that it can be difficult to draw any conclusions comparing groups of extremely small size. Having only 1 or 2 calves may not be a fair representation of a sire’s genetic capabilities. Unfortunately, nature didn’t bless us with perfect distribution of steer and heifer calves across all sires. Weaning weight data listed is adjusted to a 205 day weaning weight. All data has been uploaded to Digital Beef. We are working with UI to plan a field day in August. This will include a chance to see the cattle on feed, as well as educational presentations and fellowship with other Shorthorn breeders. Be sure to look for more information on this event in future issues of the Shorthorn Country. View Full Report Here!

American Rancher featuring Shorthorn Cattle

This is the most recent American Rancher featuring Shorthorn cattle. The ASA slogan ‘Performance with Purpose’ truly describes the Shorthorn breed and the breeders that raise Shorthorn cattle. Check it out!