Rayner Reckons

Sep 19

How useful are EBVs?

Posted on Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I am certain at some point you will have heard the question asked, “How useful are these EBVs?” If you haven’t head that question you most likely will have heard something very similar.

The annual bull-selling season is a time when many people seem to ask questions about EBVs. The questions are not restricted to the usefulness of EBVs. They also include what do they mean, how do we actually use them and most frequently, why bother with them!

This year I was tagged on Facebook to make a comment on an American article that questioned EBVs, or as they are known in the US EPDs (which is Expected Progeny Differences). It was a pretty long article that questioned the science and mathematics that underpin the calculation of Breeding Values.

I had to read the article about three or four times to properly understand it! However two lines stood out for me. The first asked if EBVs were a tool or a toy. The suggestion was that EBVs were a dangerous toy being used unthinkingly and that it was a cult like behavior! The second was the summary line quoting a Tom Lasater, founder of the Beefmaster breed who said: "Breeding cattle is easy. The difficult part is keeping it easy!"

The article made me think a lot about my advice and the work I’ve done with producers for over 20 years. The comment about breeding cattle is easy, and the difficult part is keeping it easy is a good place to start.

Breeding cattle is easy! You can buy a bull and leave him with a group of cows all year. You don’t need to spend a lot, and you don’t really have to do much.

However, breeding cattle and making a profit is not so easy! Profit is driven in beef herds by the average price you receive and the kilograms of beef you produce per hectare. The average cost to produce a kilogram of beef in Southern Australia is $1.74 and in northern Australia its $1.75

So to be profitable, you can either increase your average price per kilogram, or reduce your costs or increase your kilograms of beef produced per hectare. Of these three options, the one with the greatest variation and the most potential to be manipulated in the kilograms of beef you produce per hectare.

Increasing your kilograms per hectare requires you to focus on two key areas. Nutrition and genetics. I actually find it hard to prioritise one over the other. In most situations, nutrition often limits the genetic potential of cattle. I have seen many herds with genetics that were capable of producing more kilograms of beef, but those genetics were never going to be expressed with the level of nutrition on offer.

Conversely genetics offer the opportunity to increase the ability of animals to grow faster, to be more muscular or more fertile or to have the traits that contribute to market compliance. It’s just as important to ensure your animals can fully utilize the nutrition you provide, so that investment in pastures, crops or feed isn’t wasted.

Increasing your production is a result of focused nutritional management and clear genetic improvement to capture the traits that help you produce cattle that suit your environment and your markets.

The difference between this and a basic, ‘simply put the bull out with the cows program’ is the simple option remains unfocussed. Cows calve when they calve. Weaners hit weights at varying times. Marketing is done ad hoc! Essentially this is a commodity production system where breeders have little opportunity to take advantage of market specifications or industry programs that can increase the average price per kilogram.

So in my mind, profitably breeding cattle isn’t simple! You need to manage the complexity of nutrition in varying seasons and localities. You need to consider market specifications as well as programs such as MSA that can increase your average price per kilogram. And you need to invest in genetics that will allow you to lift your production to be profitable.

The hardest thing with genetics is you can’t actually see them in an animal. When you look at a bull or a cow, you can see its physical appearance. It’s a direct result of its individual background, its nutrition and environment allowing it to express its genetics. Will that be the same in your business? How do you know? You have at best a guess that he may or may not suit your program.

The use of EBVs and particularly those that have high accuracies mean you have a better estimation of the genetic potential of that animal to contribute those traits into your herd. High accuracies mean that data on those genetics has been recorded on numerous programs and environments. This offers you a better insight into the genetic potential of an animal and therefore an opportunity to make a more informed selection.

I’ve never considered an EBV as a crystal ball. Its an estimation based on recordings and analysis. I would never consider them a toy! I use EBVs as a tool that help me select a number of bulls that would contribute the genetics my clients require to increase their production of beef per hectare. Once I have those bulls identified, I need to physically assess them. If the bull is unsound, or has a poor temperament or displays attributes unsuited to my client, I don’t recommend him!

So when I’m asked how useful are EBVs, I always answer that EBVs are a very useful tool. And that tool is to help refine your search for a sire down to a manageable number that you will then physically assess.

Breeding cattle is simple. Being a profitable cattle breeder takes a bit more work and focus. However if you want to be profitable there are tools to help make your job a bit easier. Every tool has a limitation, and if you know the limitations and use them as they are meant to be used, I reckon you can make breeding profitable cattle a bit easier than some people make them out to be!

Sep 18

Is your bull ready to work?

Posted on Friday, September 18, 2015

The 2015 bull selling season is going to be remembered for the record prices on offer for sires.  This year the Shorthorn breed broke their on farm average price twice in two days.  While the Angus breed saw a new record price for a bull sold for $150,000 while the average at the same sale set a new all breed average at $14, 876! 

With these amazing prices there's little doubt that producers are thinking a lot about bulls and this years investments.  However I reckon its important not to overlook the bulls that you already have on farm, and spend some time making sure the ones you have are ready to work!  With joining time rapidly approaching for breeders who aim to calve in spring next year, its time to check all your bulls over and make sure they are ready to work.

Its pretty important that you bring your bulls up into the yards and spend some time giving them all a complete check over.  Key areas to assess are:

* His eyes and mouth.  You need to be check that there are no injuries or inflammations around his eyes.  His teeth need to be sound

* His sheath and testicles. Put him in the crush and with the vet gate shut, so you can't be kicked!  When it is shut securely, check both testicles and make sure there are no swelling or unusual bumps, or that the testes are not soft and spongy.  If they are, your bull may be sub-fertile and you should avoid using him!

* Look at his sheath and penis and make sure there is no swelling, unusual appearances or damage.  Again if there is, your bull may not want to join cows, and he shouldn't be used.

Its important to check your records and make sure his vaccinations for vibrio are up to date.  If he needs a booster its best to do it before joining, so a pre joining inspection is a good time for this to happen.

I reckon the other key thing to do is to make the bull walk in front of you.  You need to see that he walks without any sign of lameness or stiffness. I find its much easier to check for that by making your bull walk briskly across a yard.  So you need to watch him from the side and from behind.  You will be looking for stiffness, or favouring a leg or unusual gait. 

Remember if he has trouble walking, the demands of a joining program will test any injury out.  Its likely a sore bull will be less willing to work and so you could have some issues with low conception rates as a result.

If you are using a number of bulls in joining mobs, the time joining mobs could be established now if you have the paddock room to do this.  The bulls will take a couple of weeks to sort out their new pecking order.  So if you can get that done before joining, then the bulls are more likely to get straight to work!

As a producer who might chose to do that, try and use paddocks big enough that they can get away from each other and not become injured fighting!

For producers who feel thats not an option, just remember that your bulls will spend some time at joining establishing a pecking group. So when you do put bulls out, think about matching them for size and number.  The recommended number is 3% bulls to cows.  

By checking your bulls now, I reckon you can have some time up your sleeve to plan out your joining program.  Remember joining should normally be 9 - 12 weeks, so it isn't a long time and you want to make every day count!  If a bull isn't up to the job, you need to know now so you can find a replacement or re plan a work program for the bulls that are fit and ready to work.


Jul 30

How are you going with the sale catalogue?

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015

This time of year my mailbox fills up with catalogues for bull sales being held across the north west of NSW and southern Queensland.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be on the mailing list for so many different operations.  Its important I know what bulls are being offered and its important I'm able to know these things if I'm going to do my job properly advising clients of what sire decisions they should consider.

One thing that stands out for me, is the number of bulls available each year, and the overwhelming amount of information that is now available for producers.  Its impressive and exciting that we can make decisions about the genetic potential of a bull and not be wholly reliant on visual observation and pedigree.  

With the availability of EBVs, we now have much more information regarding the genetic potential of a bull to improve herd performance in numerous traits.  That information can be vital in making progress in your herd.  Especially when you remember that genetic improvement is both long term and cumulative in your herd.

However, in practical terms how do you work your way through a catalogue, let alone several catalogues that may arrive on your desk?  I thought I might spend a bit of time offering a few suggestions to make sure you use your catalogue to its full potential, and the bull sale vendors get a return on their investment of producing the catalogues in the first place!

The starting point, as obvious as it seems, is to know what breed you are actually interested in looking at for your next sire! In my case I have a lot of breeds to be across.  But for most producers there is really only a need to worry about bulls from the breeds they use in their herds.  This is important because you shouldn't be attempting to compare the EBVs of breeds against each other!  While the traits recorded may be the same, the EBVs that are published have different values.

When you choose a sire, you should be looking for a sire that will contribute the genetics to move your herd in a specific direction.  So ask yourself what is it you want to achieve with your herd?  Do you want to improve your growth rate to turn steers off earlier?  Do you need more fatness?  How big do you want your cows to be in your herd, and so what is the mature size potential of a bull daughters?  There are plenty of questions to ask, and you need to have the answers in mind.  

With these answers, you can start to look at a catalogue!  The front of the catalogues contain valuable information about the sale, and buying conditions.  They also contain the information on the breed EBVs.  This includes breed average as well as in the breed leaders across the traits.  This is designed to help you know if a bull is likely to offer you a genetic advantage in the traits you may be looking for.  

The following pages contain information such as reference sires, and this often helps you determine what pedigrees and what breeding objectives the bulk breeder has in mind.  

The majority of the catalogue is then made up of information on each bull on offer.  Each description includes the Lot Number, Registered Name, Pedigree and Breedplan information (EBVs).  Most entries also contain the breeders comments or thoughts.  

There are different considerations here.  If you are following pedigrees and using specific sire lines in your herd, the pedigree is important information.  

Most people in a commercial operation don't need to spend a lot of time on pedigree.  Instead look at the EBVs.

The EBVs you should look at are the ones that are important to your breeding direction!  If for example you want to improve yield and eye muscle area, these are the EBVs to look at!  If it helps, highlight the bulls that fall within your desired range.  Often this will be the bulls that have a high accuracy of EBV data and are above breed average in that trait.  

If the bulls don't have the genetic potential for your herd direction, then don't spend time worrying about them!

The reality is, most sale offerings of bulls will only have a small proportion of bulls suitable for the direction of your herd.  Its not to say there are bulls that are no good.  It means not every bull will suit every operation.  So spend time looking for the right one.  Remember a bulls influence can last up to three generations, so choosing the right one is important.  

There is another way to find the sires in a catalogue.  The electronic version is to use the BreedObject website.  BredeObject allows you to search the catalogues in your breed, and rank animals on either $ Index values, or around the EBVs that you have identified as important in your herd direction.

Basically BreeObject lets you automatically search the bulls being offered and identified them.  When you have a result, you can highlight those bulls in the catalogue and take that list of bulls to the sale.

The most important part of the process is to not worry about all the other bulls on offer at a particular sale!

Trust your list and your identified set of animals.  These are the ones you know will be genetically most suited to your herd direction and production goals.

When you get to the sale, take the time to look at the bus you have identified.  This is your chance to look critically at each bull and assess if his physical attributes are best suited to your herd.  

If you have any doubts or you can clearly see the bull doesn't suit your cow herd, then yo can move to the next bull on your list.  By the end of the process you should have a purchase list of bulls in order, and it should be a list you can have a lot of confidence in, based on the genetic information available and on your physical assessment!

Its true this approach is perhaps a little more structured than many people are used to.  But if you want to make the best decision and purchase a bull to take your program forwards, then I reckon you should do a bit of preparation!  If you're not sure where to start, then feel free to give me a call and get some advice.  When you do put the work in, you will find your catalogues to be a key stone in the preparation and on the day you buy your next sire.

Feb 20

How much does it cost to buy cattle?

Posted on Friday, February 20, 2015

There's no doubt the prices for cattle have been a major talking point in the last two months.  The average sale yard price for cattle of all descriptions are significantly higher than the average over the past 36 months.  In some cases records are being broken and many people are struggling to remember if prices have ever been so high.  

With this strong market, I've received a lot of requests from people wanting to buy and sell cattle, as well as people looking to understand the industry a little better, to advise them on what an animal is worth.  

In the case of commercial animals, I rely on the NLRS market reports, that are available online every day.  These are the reports you hear on the ABC Country Hour or read in your weekly rural papers. I reckon these reports are the most useful guide on current market prices, and when we are looking at cattle in a paddock, its the best option to work out a value.

But how do you put a value, or budget on buying new breeding stock such as a new bull or some new cows?

There's lots of people who have an opinion on what a new bull should cost you.  As you can imagine the range in opinions is pretty broad!  I had some comments on the RaynerAg Facebook page on this topic, with suggestions about buying from smaller studs where the price will be lower, through to the importance of recognising the value of long term genetic improvement.

So how do you value the cost of a bull?  

Well there are a few things to consider.  The first thing is you are investing in an animal that will have an influence on three generations of your herd.  So you need to recognise that you are buying an animal that offers value over a long time.  

More importantly, the traits or genetics that bull has, may allow you to produce more kilograms of beef more quickly, or hit your market specifications more efficiently.  These improvements in your herd can earn you more, so spending on genetics might well be justified.

I reckon there are some things to think about when determining your spending limit.  Firstly how many cows will your bull be joined to in his working life?  Unfortunately the average working life of bulls is only around 3.5 years.  Many bulls seem to break down physically after this time.  This means if you want a bull to have a longer working life, you need to focus on structural soundness as much as on genetic potential.  

How many cows will your bull be joined to?  On average most producers join bulls at a rate of 3% to their cow groups.  Some bulls get slightly higher numbers, but this is pretty much a common joining rate in southern Australia (NSW, Vic, SA, Tas and southern WA).  From that we can work out that a bull will probably sire 30 calves a year for 3.5 years.  Which means an average bull may sire about 105 calves in his working life.

According to Beef Central, the average price for a bull across all breeds in 2014 was $4639.  on current market prices, the salvage value of a bull, that is what it is worth at the end of his working life is around $1500.  From this we can work out that the bull is actually worth about $3,139.  From this, you can work out the value of every each calf he sires.   In this example the cost per calf will be $29.89

If that is the cost of an average calf, then why would you spend more?  It now comes back to how much you want to improve your performance.  Not every bull is average!  Some bulls will grow faster, be leaner or fatter at the same stage of growth, some have better temperament and some have more muscle.

Genetic differences are the key to how productive your herd is.  Finding a bull with the genetic potential to move your herd can now be budgeted.  

It might be that if you can produce calves that will grow slightly faster than the average, you could turn your steer progeny off 3 weeks earlier.  This earlier turn off might allow you to capture a higher market return, and the extra value on those steers justifies spending more than the average on a new bull.

I reckon the challenge in determining how much it costs to buy cattle, isn't about the round figure sale price everyone likes to quote.  Instead I reckon its about working out: 

  • how much your calves cost you?

  • can better genetics help you achieve your target more efficiently?

  • is there a financial advantage to be had - either in the paddock or at sale time?

If you can answer those questions then I reckon you can work out the price you can afford to spend on bulls.  And if you don't really know how to start answering those questions, I reckon you should give me a call and I'll help you come up with some results to take you forward.

Dec 01

I love a successful outcome!

Posted on Monday, December 01, 2014

In a number of these blogs for Rayner Reckons, I've written about the importance of working to achieve outcomes.   I have a deeply held belief that every business should know what goals they are working towards.  Those goals or outcomes don't have to mean that your business is to move into the top ten beef producers in the country, or to own more cattle in the region than anyone else.  

Your goals could be as personal as making sure you and your family can have a holiday away from the farm every year.  Or it could be a decision to structure your operations to respond to seasonal changes without significantly altering your enterprise.   

Whatever your outcomes are, its important to work towards those by structuring your daily, weekly, and monthly activities around the best tactics to help you achieve your outcomes on time and as efficiently as you can.

One of the key outcomes for RaynerAg is to help my clients find ways to more efficiently meet their goals.  

This year I've been working to help the team at Classimate services offer producers who want to market their livestock on line a credible, independent assessment of the structure, temperament, fertility & muscling of their cattle. 

This system would complement other data breeders want to provide their clients, such as EBVs or pedigrees on their animals.  I've written in previous Rayner Reckons about the way we have developed this concept.

For me there are some outcomes I wanted to achieve.  The first was to develop a system that ticked the boxes for industry credibility, repeatability, relevance and most importantly usefulness to producers, both from a selling and from a buying position.  

To achieve this goal I worked closely with a team of people who I respect for their industry knowledge and experience.  Together we developed a cattle assessment system that ticks those boxes.

The next goal was to actually undertake assessments for a producer who wanted to market their cattle on line.  As a new concept I wondered how producers would respond to the new opportunity.

It turns out there has been plenty of interest from producers in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. The first cattle to be assessed for the system are based in Gin Gin, Queensland.  

I was really pleased to have over 100 cows come through the yards to be assessed under the system I had developed with my colleagues. I reckon that in itself was a successful outcome to the project I'd been working on.

I reckon the next goal is to use the assessment data in two ways.  The first will be to provide the owners with the ability to market their cattle with the independent assessment scores we allocate each animal.  And secondly I want to provide the owner with a benchmark of their animals structure, the trends and observations I've seen, as well as some suggestions on how to manage those trends.  

That way I reckon there is real value in having your cattle assessed.  One, you can market them to a wider audience, and two, you can have something objective to work towards in your herd improvement process.

I'm really pleased this project is achieving the outcomes I wanted, its also reminded me of a few lessons that can be applied to any project you're working on to achieve your goals.

1. Break your goal down into a series of smaller goals so that you can manage them more easily

2. Look to your networks and seek the skills to help you get to your goal

3. Be prepared to invest in those skills or people.  It might mean paying for advice or assistance, but that is investment that pays a bigger return when you achieve your goals.

4.  Think about the other positive outcomes your achievements might bring.  It could be new options to manage your business, to market your livestock or in my case provide additional tailored support to producers.

I really love the outcomes from this project.  For me, I've been able to see some great cattle, meet some fantastic new producers, work more closely with a great group of colleagues as well as implementing a great cattle assessment program.  Its been a great few months, and I'm looking forward to setting some new goals to work towards.

Oct 29

Are your bulls ready to work?

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Its hard to believe that November is almost here.  The year seems to have passed so quickly, and for cattle producers the next event on the annual breeding calendar is just about to kick off.  If your enterprise is designed around a spring calving, that event is the annual joining period.  So the question is, are your bulls ready to work?

Joining is a critical event for any breeding enterprise.  If it isn't well managed the cash flow over the next 1 -2 years can be dramatically reduced.  

A poorly managed joining doesn't just mean less calves next year to sell.  It also has implications for the culling strategies and replacement programs you might have in place.  Both of these also impact on your profitability.

How you manage your joining program should be a key priority for the year.

Your bulls readiness to work is a key aspect of successful joining.  Its important you take some time to check your bulls over before you introduce them to their joining groups.  

Ideally your bulls will have been running together for some time in the lead up to joining.  This allows them to sort out their pecking order and this will minimise the time they spend fighting with each other instead of working.  it also helps reduce the risk of injury.

When you start to prepare for joining, you should bring you bulls to a location such as your yards and check them all over to ensure there are no injuries or issues that may have recently occurred.  Joining is a physically demanding time for bulls and slight physical injuries can become worse over time and may prevent your bull working as hard as he should.

Even if you have only purchased your bull at this years bull sales, check him over again before putting him out to work.  As a new bull he may have had some difficulty settling in and as a result could have some minor issues.

I reckon its definitely worth putting your bulls through a crush and checking everything, particularly sheath and testicles.  The bulls testicles should feel firm and springy, and if they don't, this is an indication his testicles may not be as healthy as desirable, and therefore his value as working bull may be lower.  

Its better to find the bull with issues before you put them with the cows, rather than mid way or at the end of joining.

Take some time to consider the mating load and length of joining for your bulls.  A structurally sound bull in working condition with a Fat Score of 2.5 - 3.5 should comfortably handle a joining period of 9 to 12 weeks.  In terms of a mating load, bulls in this condition and with good structural soundness should be mated at the rate of 3 bulls per 100 cows. 

If your plan is to single sire mate, that is one bull to a group of cows, you need to consider the following things:

* Don't overload your bulls with too many cows.  More than 40 is putting a lot of pressure on him and some cows may get missed

* Consider your paddock size.  If the paddocks are too big or have undulating terrain or timber and vegetation your bull could miss some cows

*Check your bull regularly and have a back up ready to replace him

These are good guidelines for multiple sire mating.  Stick to the 3% bulls to cows, and remember to check them frequently.  You need to make sure a bull hasn't injured himself while working, and be prepared to replace an injured bull.

One good trick some people use is to have their replacement bulls running as a group.  If there is a need to replace a bull through injury during joining, the whole group of bulls are swapped over.  The new bulls should get to work without too much fighting and the other group can be rested or treated for injury if that is an issue.

Keep an eye on all your mating groups.  As joining comes to a close, start thinking about how you will bring your bulls out, how you will run them and be prepared to boost their nutritional requirements following their working months.

While many people plan to put bulls out on Melbourne Cup day, which is only next Tuesday, its not too late to make some time to check your bulls and plan for the next few working weeks.  If your bulls are ready to work then your joining period will be off to a good start.

Oct 20

A System to Provide Independent Cattle Assessments

Posted on Monday, October 20, 2014

Earlier this year I was undertaking some work in Brisbane.  While I was in town I was contacted by Angus Burnett-Smith who wanted to talk to me about cattle assessment work.  I have to admit I was pleased to be contacted, largely because it seemed like a good chance to meet someone new, and hopefully it might bring some more work towards RaynerAg!

Well I was right on both of those assumptions!  Angus is the brains and energy behind an online livestock marketing system.  In simplest terms the ClassiMate model combines independent assessment of breeding livestock with an online marketing platform for those animals.

The model has proven to be very successful with small ruminant animals, and Angus was keen to discuss with me the opportunity to extend the platform to beef cattle.

It certainly was an exciting proposition.  

There are plenty of methods used in the beef industry to describe cattle. The challenge was to draw on those to develop a system that would allow breeders to be able to list their cattle on line, and for potential buyers to view those cattle with complete confidence in the way those animals had been assessed.

I reckon it was a challenge I had to accept, and I went away and worked with several industry people who have a level of experience and industry knowledge I respect.  Between us we looked at the current industry methods, and considered what traits are most important to assess in breeding animals. 

With a lot of research, discussion and testing, I was able to report back to Angus and the ClassiMate team we had developed a system we are confident in to assess with credibility and repeatability, breeding cattle of both sexes.  

The ClassiMate assessment system assesses structural soundness; temperament; fertility and muscle.  These are the traits that are important in any breeding enterprise, and using these as the basis for selection will certainly drive the performance of any beef business.  

Now that the system has been established the role of RaynerAg will be to provide ClassiMate members with the assessment service so that they can list their animals on the website. 

RaynerAg will not be working for ClassiMate.  I'll provide an independent service (along with the other team members) that is arranged on demand as people require it.

So what happens now?  Well firstly I reckon its important to remember that assessing your animals on their physical merits won't replace the value of EBVs which describe the genetic potential of an animal.  So if you are in BreedPlan I'd encourage you to continue to monitor and record the traits required to contribute to your EBVs.  

However having the opportunity to have your animals independently assessed for their structural soundness, temperament; fertility and muscle can be incredibly beneficial.  

Assessments such as these will allow you to select out animals that are not suited to your environment; to your market specifications or are just not right for your program.  

If you are trying to market your livestock and one option is to advertise your livestock online, providing potential buyers with an independent assessment of your animals can add to your credibility. 

I reckon there will be opportunities for breeders who are looking to try and combine traditional marketing techniques with online marketing.  There would be no reason why bulls in a sale catalogue or females in a feature sale couldn't be accompanied with both their individual EBVs and a ClassiMate score.  That way you address genetic potential and the animal's physical traits at the same time.

I'm pleased I was able to work with a great team to develop this system. Naturally I hope ClassiMate see's new members that are looking to have their cattle assessed!  But I also have to be honest and say I'm pleased that a team of people I respect came together to put some ideas together to have a system in place that will aid beef producers across Australia improve their herds and hopefully move much closer to their owners goals.  

If you are interested in joining ClassiMate you can get in touch with them yourself.  As an independent assessor, my connection with ClassiMate is now purely to be on their list of cattle assessors and to ensure the system used to assess cattle into the future maintains industry relevance and credibility.  I reckon it will work and I think there will be plenty of producers who will gain a lot from both the assessments and the new marketing opportunities. 

May 29

Are you coming to our bull sale?

Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2014

There are some questions which seem to be, in current terms, the trending questions.  I've shared a few in recent Rayner Reckons.  The latest trend is associated with the upcoming round of northern NSW bull sales.  I'm pretty sure most people have been asked "are you coming to our bull sale?"

In my previous career with the NSW DPI, as the District Beef Cattle Officer, getting out to bull sales was an important part of the job.  There were a few reasons for this.  Being at sales gave me a chance to catch up with producers, see what was happening in the seed stock sector, and get a feel for the optimism people had for the year ahead.  

Being at a sale was also a great opportunity to talk to producers about how to understand EBVs; what to look for in structure or muscle and even to create some discussion about target markets.  

In many ways being at a sale also helped the vendors.  

There's no doubt the lead up to and the morning of a bull sale are some of the most demanding times bull breeders will face.  They need to speak with existing clients; meet and get to know new clients; make sure the agents are fully briefed on the day and arrange countless other things to make sure the sale goes to plan!  

So having the local beef cattle officer at the sale was a good thing.  The vendor & agents would often encourage producers to chat to me about those things such as EBVs or the merits of bulls, confident their clients were getting good reliable advice which may help producers buying bulls at the sale.

In developing RaynerAg, attending bull sales is still one of the key services I like to undertake.  However, I've had to make some decisions about how and why I go to sales.  The simple matter is my business is to provide advice to clients to help them run their business more effectively. When I attend sales now I have to do so to provide that service, and I now have to make that a business decision.

Quite a few bull breeders have asked me if I will be coming to their sale this year.  

Several have offered me an opportunity to receive a rebate if I bring clients along who purchase bulls a the sale, similar to that offered to agents introducing new clients.

I've actually chosen to decline this offer.  

I'm determined to offer my clients advice which is independent, and not driven by the need to earn  commission on sales, be it bulls or animal health products etc.

Instead I've offered the vendors an alternative suggestion.  For a fixed fee I will attend their sale day and be on hand to provide purchasers with advice on the bulls.  This includes understanding EBVs, comparing bulls in the catalogue, caring for the bull when it is delivered, as well as other questions the purchaser might have.  Because I'm not working on a commission purchasers can feel confident in asking me to compare bulls and also to present advice which is truly independent.  

The vendors can also feel comfortable knowing that they can steer clients towards me to address their questions and concerns about bulls.  This just gives the vendors a chance to work through their sale day with some more support and be confident their new and existing clients are not being neglected!

I reckon this service may not be for every bull seller this year.  However for the breeders I am working with, they have told me their clients were happy they had the option (if they wanted it) to seek some help or to bounce some ideas off when looking at the bulls in the catalogue.

I'm looking forward to the sales I'm going to this season.  I definitely looking forward to continuing to help producers and bull breeders achieve their goals in buying and selling bulls which will make a positive difference in beef enterprises in the next few years.


May 07

How objective are you when looking at your bulls?

Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2014

If you're a bull breeder, there's no doubt you have one of the more challenging roles in the beef industry. As a breeder you're producing bulls that will contribute to the genetic potential of a breed and more importantly, your bull will have a direct impact on the production of beef across the business of many people. 

Its not an easy task, as you need to manage the variation which naturally occurs in any population. This variation extends across frame size & maturity pattern, growth, muscle, temperament as well as well as other traits.  

To some extent this natural variation is a good thing.  It allows you to present bulls for sale for producers who all have different requirements bulls, based on their own cow herd, environment or target markets.

The ability to measure and record the genetic potential of your bulls, and present them using BreedPlan EBVs is a huge advantage for bull breeders.  As I've discussed in other Rayner reckons, EBVs allow producers to search for bulls which have the genetic potential to take a herd in a new direction or to strengthen the traits most desirable ion a breeding herd.

EBVs offer an objective measure of the genetic value of a bull.  The measurement and evaluation of the traits recorded in BreedPlan does provide a level of objectivity which producers can look to when they are seeking to buy a new bull.

However there are some attributes a bull has, which can't be assessed from EBVs. For instance, what are the bulls feet like? Or what is his muscle score?  How are his legs and shoulders?  What does his sheath look like?

These are important physical traits which can have a big impact on a producers cow herd. A bull with less than ideal feet can possibly make a problem worse in a herd.  

Selecting for muscle score is based on a visual assessment of the overall muscle volume of the bull.  There is a correlation with the EBVs for Retail Beef Yield, but a visual assessment can make a decision on the suitability of a bull to improve muscle score in a breeding herd that much easier.

Many bull breeders have attempted to address this need to assess the physical attributes of their bulls by including photographs of the bulls in their sale catalogues.  These photos can highlight some of the obvious characteristics, but as one producer said to me "you can only tell so much from a photograph".

Objectively describing your bulls to potential clients can also be a challenge.  Your opinions will be part of the overall information a producer absorbs, but some clients want to see more objective descriptions of a bulls physical attributes.

To help bulls breeders provide this objective information many breeders are now supplying information categorised under the Beef Class Structural Assessment Scores. These scores are based on on the structure of feet, legs, sheath & temperament.  

Providing these scores in your catalogue can demonstrate to potential purchasers that each bulls physical attributes have been objectively assessed and scored.  

These combined with the genetic information of the EBVs certainly give a purchaser a level of information which ensures they can make very informed & focussed decisions.

Naturally purchasers should still look at the bulls they are interested in to ensure traits such as frame or the maturity pattern of the bull will complement their herds. 

I reckon providing this information for each bull allows purchasers to narrow their search down to specific bulls in your catalogue.  It also demonstrates to your clients how focussed you are in providing the best information on your bulls, to help them make the right decisions.  Its often your focus on providing the right animals which will see a client buy your bulls year after year.

As a bull breeder don't be afraid to use an independent specialist to assist in the objective assessments. I have been doing a lot of bull assessments and its common to notice things the breeder has overlooked, simply because they see their bulls everyday and miss something out of familiarity.  

If you're interested in providing some more objective information on your bulls this year, don't hesitate to give me a call.  I'd be very happy to make a time to look over your bulls to help you provide the information which can not only attract new clients but can also satisfy the needs of your existing clients.

Mar 28

What can you learn from the show ring?

Posted on Friday, March 28, 2014

How do you benchmark your livestock against other people?  Seedstock producers are fortunate to have Breedplan which provides breeders with a way of measuring and comparing the genetic potential of their animals through EBVs.  Without doubt EBVs provide a chance to assess genetic potential for the commercial traits essential to improving a beef enterprise.

So where does the show ring fit in todays commercial world?  As someone who has been involved in agricultural shows for over 25 years as an exhibitor, steward, judge and organiser, I think about this question a lot!

I reckon the show ring still provides plenty of learning for producers, either in showing their cattle or just from watching the events.  

Observing animals closely, as they walk around a ring, and as they stand still for judging, lets you get up close and personal to observe the physical characteristics which the animal has.  Questions like the shape and angle of feet and legs, the size of testicles, the placement of teats on the udder.  These physical features are as important as the genetic potential of the animal.  

Comparing animals of the same age and breed against each other gives you a chance to see how the animal has expressed their genetic potential when they receive the nutrition they require.  

Being able to compare your animals in an environment where you will be exposed to an outside opinion does challenge you!  But any challenge is also an opportunity.  It is a chance to see what your breed is doing, and to see if there is much variation in the breed type, as well as what your animals look like at the same age and weight as animals of other breeds.  

Its important not to underestimate the importance of networking with other breeders, and producers at a show.  The show ring remains an important publicity tool for your program and for the type of cattle you are seeking to breed.  Many producers are looking to make contact with breeders and to see how animals compare against each other.  Its part of the information gathering process many people undertake when they are looking for new genetics.

I find producers enjoy supporting their bull breeders at local, regional and state shows.  There is a degree of pride in seeing the breeder who supplies you with genetics, being prepared to display their animals and compete for recognition in a public arena.  

To me it, by exhibiting your livestock you are saying you are proud of your animals and are prepared to showcase them publicly which we all know can be challenging as you are exposed to public praise and public critique.

Generally most people will remember seeing you in the ring and remember the chats they have with you in the cattle sheds more than they will remember where you placed in the class.  This recognition and awareness can underpin your sale in coming months.

Judges at shows should be able to offer you an independent observation on your animals compared to their peers in a class.  True it is a subjective opinion.  But don't forget, people who haven't seen your animals before may notice something which you haven't really noticed, or because you see it so often, you take it for granted.  Most judges will be happy to chat after the event, so take the time to meet the judge and discuss their comments.  Its often the outside view that can help you piece together an idea which really benefits you in the long run.  

For me, the show, be it the local show or the Royal, is a chance to spend some time with people who are enthusiastic about breeding cattle and who have a vision for their business.  I look forward to being around passionate and enthusiastic people and I draw a lot of energy from them.

The show ring does give you a chance to showcase your animals, to benchmark their performance, and most importantly, it lets you mix with people who will share ideas and passions which you can use to boost yourself towards new goals.



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