The Most Important Economic Trait…

Published on Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:14am

 The Most Important Economic Trait…

 By Kit Pharo - Pharo Cattle Company.

 If profit is the goal, then fertility is by far the most important trait cow-calf producers should be selecting for.   Studies have shown that reproductive traits are twice as important as growth traits which are twice as important as carcass traits.   Ironically, the status quo beef industry has been selecting almost exclusively for growth and carcass traits for the past 40-plus years – at the expense of reproduction.

Because the heritability of growth and carcass traits is very high, it is relatively easy to make changes in those traits.   Unfortunately, members of the status quo beef industry mistakenly believe that when it comes to growth and carcass traits, more and bigger are always better.   They forget that the optimum level for a trait is almost never the same as the maximum level.   
For at least 50 years, academics have told us that the heritability of fertility is very low – so low that we shouldn’t waste our time selecting for it.   If you could isolate fertility from everything else, then this assumption would appear to be true.   In the real world, however, nothing is isolated.   In fact, just the opposite is true.

Truth be known, it’s very easy to select for fertility.   Fertility is more a function of fleshing ability than of anything else – and fleshing ability is more a function of low maintenance requirements than of anything else.   Reproduction cannot take place until maintenance requirements have been met and cows are storing up energy reserves in the form of fat.   Since fleshing ability and maintenance requirements are very heritable, fertility is also very heritable.   Keep in mind, though, it is just as easy to decrease the level of fertility as it is to increase it.

As the status quo beef industry selected for more and more growth and for less and less back fat, they inadvertently selected for lower and lower levels of fertility.   They created high-maintenance cows that struggle to reproduce under what was once considered normal ranch conditions.   The academic solution to this problem was to reduce stocking rates and/or increase supplemental feeding.   Instead of producing cows that fit the environment, they artificially changed the environment to fit the cows.

Over the last few years, Pharo Cattle Company has dared to compare the maintenance requirements of our cattle to cattle in other seedstock herds and to bulls in the major AI studs.   There really is NO comparison!   While nearly everyone else in the beef industry has been selecting almost exclusively for growth and carcass traits, we have spent the last 30 years selecting for efficient, low-maintenance cattle that can do the most for the least – the kind that can produce and reproduce with minimum inputs in many different environments.

We believe most cow-calf producers can double their profit per acre on a sustainable basis.   That’s right… double!   To do so, however, will require producers to break away from the outdated, status quo ways of thinking.   Although many are saying this can’t be done, we know better.   We know many cow-calf producers who are two to five times more profitable than all of their neighbors.