Setting Goals: Know Where You Are Going

by IBBA Member Relations Specialist Macee Prause

Advancement in technologies continue in the agriculture sector and beef industry and it is important to note the implementation of these technologies vary across the industry. As you think about your production system, nutrition program, and marketing plans, the goal of the ranch should be the center of these decisions. Even though goals are sometimes not written down or are written with too broad of topics, one needs to take the time to identify and manage their goals. How does this relate to the average cattleman? Do you have your ranch management goals identified?

Utilization of DNA technologies has been growing at a rapid pace in the livestock industry recently. This is certainly true at the International Brangus Breeders Association (IBBA) with the recent release of genomic-enhanced expected progeny differences (GE-EPDs) for seedstock producers and the Igenity Brangus Profiler for commercial cattleman. Goal setting for DNA usage has been implemented by many IBBA members.

“The beef industry is complex and must be viewed in its entirety,” stated Chris Heptinstall, general manager for Salacoa Valley Farms, “the commercial cowman is more informed today than three years ago. They look at the selection indices and GE-EPDs before they look at the phenotypes of the cattle, and it is due to proper education.”

Constructing your goals is not an event but a continuing process that will transform with time. Ranch management goals change over time, due to numerous considerations. “We have used birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, proper contemporary grouping, and ultrasound technology since its inception in the mid-80s,” stated Vernon Suhn, owner of Suhn Cattle Company. “Visual appraisal and evaluation of structural correctness along with EPD analysis is used to assess differences. We were the first Brangus bull sale catalog to publish GE-EPDs from DNA testing to add to the reliability of those predictions. More importantly, verifying the parentage so that we are properly reporting animal data to the association. We all have to look at it [DNA testing], and it is a new frontier.”

“We strive for balanced traits and do not single trait select. We are not shooting to be in the top 1 percent for all traits across the board,” Heptinstall stated. “For many of the measurable traits, our goal is to be in the top 30 percent.” If you do not have your goals identified or are unsure how to obtain them, how do you know when you will get there?

Planning and determining how you can achieve your goals is an important concept found in more successful operations. Frank Lewis with Wynne Ranch said, “We are doing DNA testing a bit different compared to most people. We run multi-sire breeding pastures, so we take DNA samples at birth on all calves born to determine correct sire parentage.”

Your cow herd, along with your land, is a key asset. Knowing where you want that asset to go and what you want to achieve along the way is a vital component of ranching. Would you choose to board a plane if there wasn’t a desired destination in mind or a scheduled time of arrival? Not many people would choose to board and have the pilot fly somewhere until he felt it was time to land at a random location.

The first step is to identify your goals, specify the means for carrying out actions, and determine a target date for completion. Your goals should be specific and measurable. Suhn stated, “we utilize and look at all the technology available to produce and supply genetics for the commercial sector through the most economical and efficient cattle possible.” In addition, Diann Watson, partner at Pennridge Ranch said, “we look at the top bulls and genetics available in the industry and try to incorporate those into our breeding plans. Looking at each cow’s EPDs and the top bulls’ EPDs, and match which mating trio would best fit our goals.”

Another step in accomplishing goals is to set short-term goals that help you achieve your long-term goals. John Rood with Rosemont Plantations wants to have a complete Ultrablack DNA-profiled herd in order “to know the quality of my herd and to know there will not be any unknowns going forward. I will be able to have confirmed parentage and genetic defect test results on the entire herd, prior to selling any head.” Ten years ago, Rosemont plantations was raising Angus and Brahman crossbreds. After learning about the Brangus Ultrablack program, they wanted to “catch up the herd” [DNA profiles]. This required obtaining DNA samples on all existing animals in addition to collecting those being added to the herd for the next two years. After completing parent verification and genetic defect testing on the animals for the last ten years, everything is known about the 2016 and 2017 cows. These short-term DNA testing actions contributed to reaching their long-term goal. Additionally, Rood said, “I am able to limit the carriers and monitor the genetic defect carriers closely in the herd because the DNA testing allows you to be 100 percent sure of the parentage for all of your animals.”

DNA testing can assist you in making confident decisions about how you select, retain, manage and market your cattle. Heptinstall said, “you get more confidence from the genomics.” Likewise, Watson reaffirmed, “I feel better about buying an animal with DNA testing and a higher EPD accuracy. I do not like to buy animals without DNA testing completed.”

Finally, you must put your goals into motion. Without action taken, it is only by chance that your goals will be reached. Through the implementation of their goals, DNA testing has assisted in the achievement of multiple producers’ goals. Suhn stated, “as we move forward, it becomes more cost effective for DNA testing and looking at other breeds and our competition comparatively, it is a factor that needs to be addressed. DNA testing will become more accurate and more helpful with more animals tested.” Furthermore, Heptinstall explained, “more and more data is turned in, especially on carcass and reproductive performance, that should drive our breed forward in both maternal and carcass traits.” These advancements bring us closer to IBBA’s mission to empower its members to advance the quality, reliability and value of Brangus and Brangus influenced cattle; and to provide innovative programs and services which enhance the economic well-being of members and commercial customers.