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!

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

Weekend in Cow Town

Emily Meinhardt

My first trip to the historic “Cow Town” was definitely a memorable one. Summit offered so many great opportunities to grow your industry knowledge, experience the Stockyards and see breeders’ operations. For me, getting to know people and making connections always ends up being my favorite part. I loved getting to meet kids my age across the different breeds, along with learning about their breeds by attending the ranch tours. I am not much of a history geek, but I found the Stockyard history very interesting to learn with the impact Fort Worth had on the cattle industry. This is a great opportunity that I believe every junior should take advantage of.

 

Anna Miller

I was excited to attend Summit this year because it was held in the historic Stockyards of Fort Worth, Texas. The Stockyards has such a fun atmosphere, and there is so much western expansion history in the area that it makes for an interesting visit. My favorite part of Summit was being able to interact with the juniors on a more personal level compared to junior nationals. In Madison, I mostly dealt with the junior members on paper and didn’t have many opportunities to get to know them. However, at Summit I was in charge of icebreakers and group activities. This gave me more of a chance to interact with members from across the three different associations. My family raises Red Angus cattle, so it was interesting for me to tour ranches from three different breeds that I am not as familiar with. Overall, Summit was a blast and felt more like a vacation than a weekend of work!

 

Emily Dyes

For me, one of the highlights of our trip to Fort Worth was the quick tour we had of the Stockyards. I grew up in Texas and have been to the Stockyards numerous times, but I still found it interesting to learn about the role that Fort Worth played in shaping the cattle industry and learned a lot of facts I didn’t previously know. A fact I learned was that cattle were only worth four dollars in San Antonio area and worth $40 in Kansas City — it definitely makes sense why everyone was moving cattle up the Chisholm Trail! Also, Bonnie and Clyde stayed at the Stockyards Hotel, so it was pretty cool to be in a building they once were in.

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!

 

Saturday August 25: National Shorthorn Sire Test Field Day

Mark your calendar for Saturday, August 25. The ASA and the University of Illinois will be hosting the National Shorthorn Sire Text Field Day.
9:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Join us on the U of I campus for an educational program as we discuss the ASA Sire Test. Speakers include Dr. Dan Shike from University of Illinois, Matt Woolfolk from ASA and more.
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. – Lunch catered by the U of I Meat Science Club
1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. –  We will head out to the University Farm to view the calves in the feedlot from the 2017 ASA Sire Test
If you would like to join us for this event, please contact Matt Woolfolk to RSVP (matt@shorthorn.org).

Single-Step EPDs: Sounding Like a Broken Record

Have you ever been pulling out of your driveway, headed to church or to dinner, only to notice just before you leave that your cows are out? Well, our cows have gotten out again on our way to finalizing the single-step genetic evaluation using the new BOLT software. When the IGS team noticed an issue with the data submission systems in another breed, it had an effect on all of us that are members of the group. Now they are working on fixing the issues, and would like to do some test runs before releasing the information live to the breeders .Ideally, they would like to have four weekly test runs without errors in able to go live. Doing so will give IGS better opportunities to find and fix issues before releasing the improved run. It’s more important to the IGS team to get it done correctly than to just get it done. Their diligence to bringing us the best genetic evaluation in the industry should certainly be commended, even if we have to be patient a while longer.

With new technology comes a learning curve, and if you are a student like me, repetition is necessary to grasp the major concepts. Since there are some new changes with the transition to the single-step multi-breed genetic evaluation, we will discuss some of those a little further to drive home the significance.

With the move to the new single-step genetic evaluation, it has been noted the accuracy values you will see in the registry will be lower than values from the previous EPD runs. That certainly sounds confusing, but there is a method to the madness. When EPD calculations first began, there simply wasn’t enough computer power available to do the tabulations necessary to come up with the true accuracy of an EPD. Instead, the scientists of the day used a technique called the approximation method to come up with as good of a prediction of accuracy as the technology of the day could compute. Geneticists realized that while these approximations of accuracy were they best they could do at the time, they were probably a bit overinflated compared to the “true” accuracy of an EPD. Thanks to technology advancements, we are now able to process the tabulations that produce the truer accuracy value that wasn’t possible before. It will take some time to wrap our heads around bulls that were once listed at a 0.90 accuracy might now be closer to a 0.65, but remember that the newer, lower number is a better representation of the accuracy value. It’s like your neighbor’s fishing stories: If he told you he caught a 15 pounder (old method of accuracy calculation), in reality he probably caught a 10 or 12 pound fish (new single-step accuracy method)!

A neat feature of the new single-step genetic evaluation is how genomic data is handled during the calculations. We have already covered how the new system eliminates a step in the current process of calculating genomically-enhanced EPDs. What’s interesting is that with the new system, not only does genomic data affect the animal that has been genomically tested, but also related animals. If you have genomically tested your herd bull, then the information gathered from his genotype has an effect on his offspring’s EPDs, as well as half and full siblings and other closely related animals. That does not mean that just having DNA on your herd bulls is a good substitution for genotyping your replacement females or sale bulls. Obviously, having information on an animal’s own genomic profile will be more valuable than just having the sire DNA tested. After all, Dad’s genetics are only half the story! Testing the offspring gives you the full genomic story.

2018 Herdsman – Ron Rutan

The 2018 Shorthorn Herdsman of the Year was awarded to Ron Rutan of RC Show Cattle in Eaton, Ohio. His long history of being involved in the Shorthorn breed began with his parents and grandparents raising Shorthorns. Rutan started RC Show Cattle with Christy Campbell in 1991 and from there he stayed actively involved with Shorthorns.

Rutan has taken cattle all over the country to many national shows over the years and in the last ten years he has displayed quite a few Shorthorn bulls in the yards at the National Western Stock Show.

“We bred the bull Damn Proud and when that bull came along Ron became even more enthusiastic about Shorthorns,” Campbell said.

Rutan has served as a director of the Ohio Shorthorn Association. RC Show Cattle also has an Annual Early Bird Sale on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend to auction their cattle.

Outside of being involved with Shorthorns, Rutan has owned and operated a fence construction business for the last 33 years as well as custom hoof trimming. Many people come from all over Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky to have Rutan trim hooves of their show cattle. Rutan also was Texas for a little bit in the 1970s and had a custom fitting service.

“We always are particular in picking a good string for Louisville,” Campbell said. “RC Show Cattle usually has 13 or 14 head there and people respect that. There are also not many people from Ohio that take cattle to Denver. Ron and Clair Bye took three head and came home with five banners. I would say that is pretty great. People also respect Ron’s quietness and that he isn’t arrogant.”

Rutan said the Shorthorn heritage goes way back in his genes and they were one of the first breeds he worked with growing up. Shorthorns have remained in his life but he enjoys working with all breeds of cattle.

“It was quite the honor to be selected as herdsman,” Rutan said. “It was a total surprise to be chosen. I never would have expected it. It is pretty gratifying to be recognized. I just work hard and do what I love.”

The Shorthorn Herdsman award is in honor of Lawrence Grathwohl, presented by the Grathwohl family and sponsored by the Shorthorn Foundation. Congratulations to Ron Rutan on being selected as the 2018 Shorthorn Herdsman of the Year.

ASA STAFF ATTENDS BEEF IMPROVEMENT FEDERATION CONVENTION

American Shorthorn Association staff attended the annual Beef Improvement Federation Convention last week in Manhattan, Kansas. Convention participants attended general sessions with industry professionals who spoke about the beef industry.

The Young Producer Symposium was the first afternoon before BIF started. This event was designed to create a network for young cattleman and to help them gain knowledge as they work towards growing their role in the industry.

The first official morning general session was titled “Opportunities for the Beef Value Chain: Can we become more coordinated and more profitable?” Speakers for the day included Glynn Tonsor and Ted Schroeder with Kansas State University, John Stika with a branded beef program, Brad Morgan with Performance Food Group, and Keith Belk with Kansas State University.

The second morning general session was titled “Protecting producer profit for the future.” The speakers for the day included David Lalman of Oklahoma State University, Chip Ramsay of Rex Ranch, Mark Enns of Colorado State University, and Clay Mathis of King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management.

“This annual BIF event is a great way to network with people who are involved in the industry,” said Montie D. Soules, Executive Secretary/CEO of ASA. “The speakers are great, but some of the best opportunities come from meeting people outside in the hall. There are so many chances to make lifetime connections.”

The afternoons were filled with breakout sessions that focused on topics from beef-production to genetic-improvement. Convention participants chose the session that was most pertinent to their needs.

Participants attended dinners at the KSU Weber Arena and Stanley Stout Livestock Marketing Center, which gave more ways for networking with people who are involved with all aspects of the cattle industry.

“This is one of the best conferences I go to,” said Toby Jordan of Waukaru Farms Inc. “There is always information about the latest and greatest when it comes to breeding. I also really enjoyed speaking at the Young Producer Symposium that was focused towards younger cattle producers that are trying to grow in the business.”

ASA staff also participated in the International Genetic Solutions seminar that was before BIF. IGS is a collaboration of 12 breed associations that are working to put the progressive commercial cattleman first by creating genetic evaluation. Soules was among the panel of association leaders that spoke about the importance of genetic improvement.

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