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Beef improvement in Big Sky country

07 Jun

By Jesse R. Bussard

A recent scholarship award took me on an adventure to Big Sky country for the 2011 Beef Improvement Federation Annual Meeting and Research Symposium held June 1-4 in Bozeman, Montana at Montana State University.  This was my first time in Montana and I guarantee it won’t be my last.  I was honored to be chosen to receive the Roy A. Wallace Memorial Scholarship sponsored by the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, Select Sires, Inc., and the Beef Improvement Federation.

An estimated 600 cattlemen and allied industry representatives were said to have attended the event including seedstock and commercial cow-calf producers, university specialists and breed association leaders.  All gathered to explore new innovative technologies and management practices to improve beef production through breeding and genetic selection. The meeting focused on a discussion of accurate measurement and prediction of genetic traits, environmental effects, genetic effects on animal health, and how we can tie it all back into profitability.  Not only did the meeting give attendees the chance to learn about some of the latest hot topics in genetic selection tools, but it provided a unique opportunity to network with some of the cattle industry’s leading seedstock producers from the US and abroad.

Left to right: Ben Spitzer, Lauren Chase, Jesse Bussard, Rachel Endecott

A list of speakers for the event can be found here with links to summaries, Powerpoint presentations, and audio recordings.  Ranch tours to three legendary ranches, including Sitz Angus Ranch, 5L Ranch, and the Cooper Hereford Ranch, were given on Saturday.  Four Young Producers Council members were in attendance at BIF including Ben Spitzer, past chairman, Lauren Chase, blog co-editor, Rachel Endecott, and myself.

The bottom line

Of all the things said at the meeting I came away with two very important things.  Number one:  Crossbreeding is underutilized in the cattle industry.  My beef professor, Dr. Dan Kniffen, from Penn State University always said, “Heterosis is the only free lunch in the cattle industry.”  There will always be a place for purebred seedstock operations but commercial cattlemen are shooting themselves in the foot if they don’t take advantage of the benefits of crossbreeding.  Time and time again research has shown that crossbreeding increases such characteristics as size, growth rate, fertility, and yield of of the offspring over those of its parents.  So what are we waiting for…

Number two:  You can’t achieve profitability through genetic selection.  Steve Radakovich put it in simple terms when he said, “We can select for efficiency, but the marketplace decides profit or loss.”  Efficiency is a worthy goal.  The main goal though should be to produce cattle that can perform well on low inputs.  But in today’s reality it seems more producers still aim to breed cattle that only function well in high-input operations.  The bottom line is, we shouldn’t design the system for the cow, we need to design the cow for the system.

You can take a great example of this from the plant breeding world.  Radakovich explained, “In my lifetime, they’ve gone from 60-bushel (per acre) corn to yields nearing 300 bushels. They’ve done it by increasing plant populations.  They actually put plants under stress and pick the ones that survive to breed the next new variety. Poultry, swine, and plant breeding industries recognize the value of increased adaptability.”  By raising cattle that can adapt to a variety of environments, not just the feedyard or the pasture, producers are able to increase their marketing options and in the end maintain more flexibility to adapt to market changes.

A meeting to remember

This was the first time I had the opportunity to meet YPC blog co-editor, Lauren Chase, in person!  She may have been a little taller than I was expecting, but it was finally good to see “the face behind the name” that I’ve been working with so diligently over the last four months.  Lauren and I attended both the meetings for BIF and the ranch tour.  We even took a little time for some fun at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman to see some dinosaurs and made a quick stop at the Goggins-Endecott Ranch to see some fine Herefords and Red Angus.  To see photos from our adventures, check out the great photos Lauren took on the Montana Stockgrowers Association Facebook page.  You can also see the updates we posted from the meeting on Twitter by searching hashtag #BIF11.

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