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An overnight success over 20 years in the making

Cattle and Beef Industry News
Feb 10, 2017

TKP Bodacious 693, pictured here in 1996, was the three-time Red Angus champion at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, CO.
Photo courtesy of Red Angus Association of America/Dr. Bob Hough

Red Angus are the hottest thing on the market right now, bringing a premium in the feeder cattle market, especially for females. What many people do not know is that the current success the breed is enjoying is the direct result of the fundamental decisions and a “stay the course” mentality that Red Angus has had for more than 20 years.

Although black Angus has long been the standard bearer for market excellence, recent research by Kansas State University studying Superior Video Auction sale results demonstrates that Red Angus heifers are marketing at a $4.60 cwt. premium and steers are selling at par compared to their black cousins.

The margin gets even wider when compared to other breed crosses. This is because Red Angus have the reputation for making profitable steers for feeders and productive commercial replacement heifers. Red Angus are particularly popular as commercial cows because of their reputation for having good dispositions, being sized right, easy keeping, the right amount of milk, and offering extra fertility and longevity.

This market acceptance and appreciation for what Red Angus has to offer the commercial cattle industry is the result of the fundamental decisions made by the Red Angus Association and its breeders starting in the mid-1990s.

History in focus

In 1994, the Red Angus Association of America (RAAA) adopted a strategic plan that would have long-term impact on the breed and the industry. This was a time when RAAA made many of the fundamental decisions that resulted in the enviable reputation the breed enjoys today.

Breed associations’ traditional business model had been to focus their resources on their association’s growth by marketing to fellow seedstock breeders and people with disposable income, which was often built around selling high-dollar registered cattle to fellow seedstock breeders.

Red Angus took a completely different approach by defining their customer as a commercial producer. As a performance-based breed, they further defined their position in the industry as being “the common denominator in progressive commercial cattle producers’ crossbreeding systems.” This meant the breed focused on maternal traits and carcass quality, which are the strengths Angus—red or black—brought to a crossbreeding system.

RAAA also made the fundamental decision that no resources would be allocated for breed growth, but instead all efforts were made to impact the profitability of their members based on commercial bull sales. RAAA’s reasoning was that if their members had profitable businesses based on a real economy, people would naturally gravitate to the breed.

With this philosophy, RAAA made a flurry of innovations aimed at the goal of improving their members’ commercial bull market. First, they implemented Total Herd Reporting (THR) in 1995, which required the production of every cow and the performance of every calf raised through weaning be accounted for on an annual basis for a cow to remain active in the registry.

Collection of full breedwide data allowed RAAA and its breeders to achieve a number of goals including the production of the most precise and reliable genetic predictions for growth traits in the industry. With THR’s complete collection of contemporary group data, a normal biological distribution of the data was obtained, so RAAA worked with Colorado State University to produce a series of data filters to sift out weights that had “non-biological” properties before they entered the genetic analysis. This removal of bad data further improved Red Angus’ genetic predictions.

EPD firsts

The initial goal of RAAA’s 1994 strategic plan was to produce 20 expected progeny differences (EPDs) by the year 2000. However this plan was quickly stricken with a new goal of describing growth, carcass, reproduction and maintenance utilizing the fewest EPDs possible to achieve this purpose. The concept of Economically Relevant Traits was developed with Colorado State University to decide if a trait passed the muster to be included in the genetic evaluation.

Unlike other associations, THR provided RAAA with the data needed to produce the first meaningful female reproductive genetic predictions, and RAAA quickly moved towards achieving the goal of comprehensively describing female reproduction. They came out with the industry’s first Stayability EPD in 1995, which is defined as the probability that once a female enters the herd that she would remain in the herd until at least six years of age.

By 2002, RAAA released the industry’s groundbreaking first Reproductive Sire Summary, which featured genetic predictions for Stayability, heifer pregnancy, calving ease direct and calving ease maternal. This emphasis the association and its breeders put on reproduction has led to the welldeserved reputation Red Angus enjoys today for having inherent fertility.

Describing carcass traits also became a high priority. In 1994, RAAA’s newly hired commercial marketing specialist was tasked with gathering carcass data needed for genetic predictions, and by 1996, Red Angus released its first carcass EPD sire summary. They were fortunate in that Red Angus had the largest average herd size in the industry, and many of these large breeders had been collecting carcass data for years. Therefore, RAAA compiling the carcass data needed to produce carcass genetic predictions was relatively easy compared to what most breeds faced.

The last piece of the puzzle was the production of a mature cow maintenance energy EPD, which required the development of a database of mature cow weights and body condition scores. Working with Colorado State University, RAAA released the industry’s first maintenance EPD in 2004. This new genetic prediction was readily adopted by Red Angus breeders, who quickly incorporated it into their selection priorities.

Well-rounded commercial cattle

Perhaps more than any other breed, Red Angus breeders have practiced long-term multi-trait selection resulting in cattle that were balanced in growth, carcass, reproduction, and maintenance requirements. This balanced approach meant that Red Angus breeders were not able to obtain the extreme genetic trend for a few traits that some other breeds could boast, but resulted in some of the most useful all-around genetics in the industry for commercial producers. This is a reputation Red Angus enjoys today.

With the association’s goal of having highly profitable breeders based on commercial bull sales, RAAA’s strategic plan called for a commercial marketing program and the hiring of the commercial marketing specialist. They felt this was necessary because, for Red Angus breeders to have profitable bull sales, their commercial customers had to be profitable marketing their feeder cattle. Addressing the feeder calf market needed immediate attention because unlike today, Red Angus-sired feeder calves were selling at a significant discount to generic black calves.

RAAA attacked this problem on a number of fronts. Red Angus had a good reputation with feeders, but the feed yards had trouble identifying which red-hided cattle were actually Red Angus-sired. To solve this, Red Angus’ commercial marketing specialist approached USDA with the idea for a certification system for Red Angus-sired feeder cattle.

Under a new program being introduced by USDA called Processed Verified Program (PVP), in 1995 RAAA introduced the industry’s first USDA PVP system called the Feeder Calf Certification Program (FCCP) or more commonly referred to as the Yellow Tag program. Because FCCP was USDA process-verified, enrolled cattle were also eligible for approved Angus product lines.

Red Angus contacted a large foodservice company that had a competing Angus product with Certified Angus Beef (CAB), and arranged for Red Angus to become one of the suppliers of their beef. Monfort (now JBS) was supplying this foodservice company at the time, so RAAA negotiated a ground-breaking grid marketing system with set premiums and discounts, which is thought to be the first of its kind in the industry. With the FCCP and grid marketing systems in place, RAAA revolutionized valuebased marketing.

Based on this true value, Red Angus steadily improved in the feeder cattle market to where it is today. In 2006, FCCP was also further improved to include age and source verification, and the yellow tag program continues to grow and be wildly successful. In the past year, over 125,000 head were certified.

The end result of all these efforts was profitable seedstock and commercial producers all based on a grounded economy. From 1994 to 2007, Red Angus quickly grew from the 12th largest breed to the fourth largest breed, which gave it the critical mass to have the impact it is having on the industry today.

All of this growth was built on the strongest foundation possible: excellence in traditional Angus traits, balanced genetics for all segments of the commercial industry, and a real economy based on commercial bull market share. Many look at Red Angus as an overnight success, when in fact its current popularity is the result of over 20 years of a laser focus by the association and its breeders on producing genetics that are profitable for commercial cow/calf producers. — Dr. Bob Hough, WLJ Correspondent

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