Data’s Role in Breeding Decision Making

In 2016, there is no shortage of information available to cattle breeders. A quick search of the internet for “cattle breeding” yields 31 million results. Two types of breeders can easily result from this much data. There are those who are so overwhelmed by trying to know the intricacies of the material that they end up taking no educated action at all, “Paralysis by Analysis.” There are also breeders who don’t put any faith in new fads and make poor breeding decisions based on feel for the herd becoming, “Extinct by Instinct.” This article will address these two classes of buyers and why both approaches can prove fatal to long term beef genetics.

Paralysis by Analysis – Drowning in Data

When push comes to shove, breeding decisions must be made and, as will be discussed in a following article, these are significant decisions that will affect the quality of your herd for at least 20 years in the future. The breeder who recognizes the magnitude of these annual decisions will likely put forth great effort in understanding some of the tools available through breed associations to make informed decisions. These respective organizations will provide data to aid in the decision making but without understanding the meaning behind numbers, a choice remains a shot in the dark. Additionally, as discussed in this article, decisions based around a single EPD, can result in equal detriment to the herd. The push-and-pull of data can be overwhelming and once the bull selection deadline is imminent, breeders may make rash decisions.

Extinct by Instinct – Disregarding the Data

The other end of the spectrum would have a breeder making decisions based off of the feel for the herd, completely ignoring the proven usefulness of the data available. Listing EPDs, indexes, and other genetic evaluation tools as fads is in the same category as ignoring the production benefits of Roundup Ready crops. Experts in the field of beef genetics who have devoted their lives to improvements in progeny characteristics have shown time and again the benefits of informed, data-based, decision making. While something is to be said about the value of a more personal relationship with the herd, simply put, genetics are only perceptible using advanced laboratory techniques. Not using the tools available, such as the various selection indices, put a breeder at a competitive disadvantage and as Mike MacNeil noted in this recent Beef Magazine article,

We all hope the income side of this teeter-totter [the beef industry] is heavier than the expense side.
 Without a long-term genetics plan, a breeder is behind the game.

The Solution – Use the experts. Use the data!

To help mitigate these effects, breeding associations such as the American Simmental Association (ASA) will produce indexes to aid in quantifying the overall value of a bull. An example of this is the API or All-Purpose Index which weights different EPDs against each other. There are various other selection indices available and each must be wielded with care. At the end of the day feel free to reach out to representatives of breeding organizations or us here at TBeef, to help guide you in using an effective mix of data and herd knowledge. The will help to guide you in making your own informed decisions without the leg work of a 25+ year career in beef genetics!