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.
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.
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.
In the last few weeks I've had a few enquiries from people keen to enter the beef industry. The want to start their own beef breeding programs. Among the questions they are asking is the one "Should we start a stud?"
I'm asked this question more often than many people would think! Its generally asked by people new to the industry and excited about breeding cattle. It can also be asked because their is a belief that operating a small stud might be a way to generate higher returns from a small beef program.
So there are a few ways I try and answer these questions. One of the first ways is to ask "why do you want to operate a stud?"
I'm generally not surprised when people struggle to answer this question. I reckon its a question worth considering, particularly if you are entering the beef industry.
Operating a stud herd, or if you prefer, a seed-stock operation is a big undertaking. These operations are responsible for identifying and producing genetics that can have a major impact in individual herds; on breed direction and ultimately the productivity of the national herd.
Genetics offer a permanent and cumulative effect on a population. In simple terms, the genetics produced by individual studs can have a long lasting impact on future generations.
Seed-stock producers therefore have a pretty big task. They have to identify and record pedigrees and animal performance across their herds. They need to collect data which can be used to contribute to the Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) used by the breed and industry to select sires for use in breeding herds. Seed-stock producers also need to be determined to select animals which not only have genetic potential but have the physical characteristics desired by the industry.
Its a pretty big responsibility. It takes years of selection & focus to produce these animals consistently. Quite simply, running a stud herd isn't for everyone!
There's no doubt breeding cattle can be exciting and rewarding! You don't have to be a registered stud to enjoy the satisfaction of breeding outstanding animals.
For new producers starting a beef enterprise, operating on a commercial basis allows much greater flexibility and opportunities.
The most important point to remember when commencing a new beef enterprise is to purchase structurally sound, fertile cows.
There's no doubt this type of cow can be found in commercial herds as well as in stud herds. Its just that sometimes its easier and often more economical to find them in commercial herds.
Running cows on a commercial basis, avoids having to register a herd and assume a higher level of administration which is essential to record animals and production data.
Choosing not to start a stud doesn't exclude you from being a member of a breed society. Most breed societies offer membership to producers as commercial members. This allows you to share the information from a society and to get to know the stud breeders who have been working at selecting genetic improvement over a number of years.
Stud breeding is a pretty demanding undertaking. If it isn't going to be a full time undertaking for new producers, I'd suggest it shouldn't be the first enterprise choice!
If your desire to be a stud breeder is simply to allow you to compete in a show, remember it is possible to compete in agricultural shows without being a stud breeder. Most local and regional shows have competitions for commercial cattle and for led steers. These competitions are just as fiercely contested and as challenging as the breed classes for stud animals.
Ultimately breeding cattle is rewarding, exciting and challenging. It can be intensely satisfying and fulfilling. If you are entering the industry I'm positive you will experience this enjoyment regardless of your cows status as stud or commercial!
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