Ohio Farmer

Beef Brief: Influences of EPDs within an operation can develop into building a better beef cow herd.

February 21, 2024

4 Min Read
Close up of a herd of young cows
APPRAISAL: A purely visual appraisal may deem the animal suitable. However, if that animal has poor EPDs, it will likely result in an unfavorable outcome for the buyer. Anne Coatesy/Getty Images

by Dirk Dempsey

An expected progeny difference, better known in the beef world as an EPD, attempts to quantify the performance of potential progeny from one animal to another based on the lineage within a singular breed.

No matter which beef breed you choose, there are similarities and differences between recognized traits from the respective breed association. A visual appraisal is one of the first recommendations many within the industry will say to start with when utilizing known EPDs.

As a beef producer, this allows you to see whether this animal is useful or unusable. A purely visual appraisal may deem the animal suitable. However, if that animal has poor EPDs, it will likely result in an unfavorable outcome for the buyer. Also, another unfavorable outcome would be if the animal has a fantastic set of EPDs, but with structural issues noted in the visual appraisal. This will also lead to an unfavorable outcome.

We expect to push into our beef operation an entirely valuable animal with an excellent visual assessment and the numbers to back that up. That is how we, as beef producers, can utilize EPD data to convert that into profit potential.

Depending on your sector of the beef industry, your focus will lie on different traits. Sectors are often identified as cow-calf, stocker-backgrounder and finisher. In southern Ohio, many operations often include two or all three sectors to create a unified enterprise.

Producers can incrementally improve herd performance with the selection or attention paid to influencing the production of a particular sector. One of the tools within the data set we can first use is EPD accuracy. The more progeny that are reported, the more accurate the animal score is.

When identifying traits to improve performance on your operation, selecting only one trait to improve is not a good idea. The best mode of action is to take a profit-making approach for the longevity of your herd. That approach should consider fertility, animals that are easy keeping, and high performing. As easy as it is to say this, putting the approach into action can look wildly different based on what segment you identify with.

A cow-calf producer may choose to investigate traits such as calving ease (CE), calving ease direct (CED) and birth weight (BW). These EPDs are more likely to result in more live calves with less calving difficulty and fewer assisted deliveries.

In terms of reading these traits, here is what producers should look for. For the CE trait, you must identify animals with a higher CE EPD to be more likely to have an unassisted birth. Producers should identify a lower BW number to predict unassisted births.

Weaned, yearling traits

If you fall into the stocker-backgrounder segment to market weaned or yearling animals, a few traits to monitor would include weaning weight (WW), yearling weight (YW) and dry matter intake (DMI). All these traits impact the calf's growth potential once it is on the ground.

For WW, this is an estimate to be measured in pounds of the expected progeny. The difference is typically measured against the breed standard or average. The same is said for YW, as a higher number allows for the potential to market more pounds based on the timeline of the animal's life.

DMI is used to predict the daily consumption of pounds of feed; this is useful to determine the potential profitability of maximizing feedstuffs within your nutrition program. This trait should indicate a lower number as it is addressed in pounds per head per day compared to the breed standard or average.

Direct to consumer

Lastly, the finisher or direct-to-consumer producer could choose to identify the following traits: carcass weight (CW), ribeye area (REA) and marbling (MARB). With the careful usage of these traits, the quality consumers experience at the dinner table should be more satisfactory than if these traits aren’t valued, as they contribute directly to the quality of the finished product.

CW is an essential tool that can serve many benefits, including creating a desired constant endpoint that can be valuable to meeting customer demands for consistency. REA is expressed on a carcass scale and is a measurement where a higher score indicates a better-muscled and higher-yielding animal. Marbling is another carcass measurement based on intramuscular fat content, which directly correlates to yield grades — a higher number is more likely to achieve a better yield grade.

The influences of EPDs within an operation can develop into building a better beef cow herd or optimizing certain traits to stimulate business operations. These considerations should not be taken lightly, as this can be a long-term decision with impacts to match.

Buying a bull or bred heifer this spring can lead to desirable calves landing on the ground soon. But the effect of deciding if a particular progeny, whether it is a bull or heifer calf, is retained and utilized within the operation can cause a ripple effect years later, potentially generating income and driving success.

Dempsey is the OSU Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension educator in Pike County and a member of the OSU Extension Beef Team. The Beef Team publishes the weekly Ohio BEEF Cattle letter, which is found at beef.osu.edu.

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