Total Herd Reporting- truly building better beef
Today, THR has become a pillar of the Red Angus breed and has set the bar for other breed associations to report all progeny records into their databases—not just the calves breeders think are good enough to register.
RAAA continues to be the only breed association where THR is not an option for its members. They are required to participate and report records on their whole herd. This commitment alone speaks of the dedication and performance mindset of founders, leaders and members as they strive to produce the best and most-accurate genetics for commercial cow/calf producers.
The first core policy of RAAA, as written by the late breed founder Waldo Forbes, states, “The goal of the Association is to place its faith in objective tests, in-herd comparisons of factors of economic importance and known heritability. By making this policy an integral part of the registration system, Red Angus breeders can achieve faster progress toward the ultimate goal of more efficient beef production.”
A concept is born
Discussion at the first brain trust meeting in 1993 in Denver, CO, stimulated the need for a strategic plan for RAAA. One of the areas the Strategic Planning Committee addressed was the inaccuracy of beef industry expected progeny differences (EPDs).
“The only reason we could identify for the dramatic shifts in our EPD calculations was biased progeny reporting,” said Melvin Leland of Sidney, MT, who served as RAAA president from 1992 to 1994. “Breeders weren’t reporting all of their progeny and, consequently, EPDs weren’t reflecting all of the data.”
At that time Red Angus members were only reporting 46 percent of their calf crop based on the traditional method of paying on a per-calf basis to register stock.
“Breeders were being penalized with a fee to do the right thing of registering and transferring animals,” continued Leland.
RAAA leaders worked for two years to convince the membership that THR was essential to the success of the Red Angus breed, but it was a hard sell. “No one likes ‘mandatory’ things,” said Leland.
Jim Leachman of Billings, MT, brainstormed the final solution to assess a fee to keep cows active on a breeder’s inventory with no additional costs to report their offspring or transfer ownership. The new registration concept was appealing to the membership and at the 1994 Red Angus convention, THR passed unanimously.
The most important benefit of THR is a more accurate database of Red Angus genetics built from the records that producers submit on their cowherds. That equates directly to more accurate EPDs—the original goal of the conceptual founders of THR.
“With complete contemporary group reporting, we are provided with comparisons between all animals which results in reliable EPDs,” explained Larry Keenan, RAAA director of breed improvement. “It’s common sense—since EPDs rely on measured variation within a contemporary group—that THR produces more reliable EPDs and faster gains in EPD accuracy by ensuring the variation in performance of each calf is counted.”
How does this affect the commercial producer who is studying EPDs at a bull sale? Keenan cited another core policy that states RAAA will strive to have the best objectively described cattle in the industry and to provide the best service to RAAA members’ customers: commercial producers.
“Our responsibility is to provide commercial producers with the best prediction of an animal’s true genetic merit,” said Keenan. “So when a producer purchases a bull whose EPDs indicate he will be a calving-ease sire, the bull performs as expected.”
The popularity of genomic technology has exploded in the seedstock industry in recent years. But geneticists needed a basis on which to build their DNA technology when they began identifying trait markers. EPDs were the logical choice for that foundation. As the Red Angus breed moves forward to incorporate 50,000 (50K) SNP markers, accurate EPDs are more important than ever.
“Reliable genomic products are dependent upon reliable EPDs,” said Keenan, who explained that geneticists correlate the 50K DNA SNP information to existing EPDs to achieve molecular breeding values.
“Red Angus stakeholders will enjoy advanced reliability of the Red Angus-specific 50K product that is built on Total Herd Reporting-based EPDs,” said Keenan.
Even though RAAA has practiced THR for over a decade, some breeders still struggle with the concept that they can benefit from this unique breed registry structure of paying an annual fee to keep a cow on active status.
“With THR it’s important that our members realize the benefits of reporting on the complete cow inventory as opposed to a selectionbased fee structure,” said Kenda Ponder, RAAA director of member services. “The breeder reports a cow’s production whether it’s a live calf, a stillborn calf or one that dies before weaning age, as well as a reason code if the cow doesn’t have a calf. That is all valuable information we incorporate into EPDs.”
“If a breeder’s ultimate goal is to provide reliable genetics to commercial protheir cowherd like it is a commercial cowherd,” said Keenan. “Therefore, if a cow’s producing ability results in her being inactive, she should be culled from the herd. A producer may think they beat the THR financial system, but they can’t beat the genetic evaluation system, which will reveal a cow’s inability to remain productive.”
“THR works to your advantage,” said Ponder, who has directed the program since 1998. “Don’t try to beat the system—instead, let it work for you.”
The next level of THR
As with any successful program, growth and change are inevitable, and with the genetic advancements the past few years, it is time to raise the bar for THR as well.
Currently, breeders are only required to submit birth and weaning dates and weaning weights, but they are encouraged to submit additional data that is used to formulate important EPDs. An example is the data collected when an animal reaches a year of age—yearling weights, scrotal measurements and carcass ultrasound data.
RAAA encourages producers to weigh their cows at weaning time and evaluate their body condition scores. This information is incorporated into the formula for the Maintenance Energy EPD.
The Heifer Exposure Report provides valuable data toward the calculation of the Heifer Pregnancy (HPG) EPD. Members submit this simple report at the end of their breeding season to identify which heifers were exposed and should be entering the producer’s herd in the coming year.
The HPG and Stayability EPDs rely heavily on yearly data in order to accurately predict these traits, said Keenan. Once RAAA had a decade’s worth of THR-based data, the Stayability EPD was upgraded from the old calculation that treated all data as non- THR data.
“Through our Stayability EPD upgrade, we were able to evaluate the impact THR data provides in predicting an animal’s genetic merit for that trait,” said Keenan. “In comparing the two Stayability models (evaluated as THR data vs. non-THR data), we found significant differences—high-accuracy sires had a rank correlation of 0.55. Forty-five out of 100 sires changed rank when evaluated with the upgraded THR model. We are now able to provide commercial producers with a reliable tool in selecting for Stayability.”
Additional benefits of THR
There are additional benefits included in the RAAA registry that add value to Red Angus cattle for commercial producers.
Ponder emphasized that RAAA does not charge members to transfer animals within 60 days of the sale in order to encourage breeders to transfer those animals into the new owner’s name. “It is imperative that bulls are transferred to their new owners,” she said. When members sell and transfer ownership of their bulls, those commercial producers become eligible to enroll their calves in the Feeder Calf Certification Program (FCCP) and tag them with the Red Angus “Yellow Tag.”
Enrollment in FCCP certifies that the calf wearing the yellow tag is genetic, age and source verified with USDA. It opens up marketing opportunities and increases profitability for that producer—both for feeder calves entering a feedlot and for heifers sold as replacement females.
If Red Angus bulls are not transferred, RAAA cannot verify those commercial producers own the bulls and therefore they cannot enroll their calves into FC- CP. “Our largest competitor isn’t another breed—it’s non-registered and nontransferred bulls,” said Ponder.
RAAA also mails a complimentary one-year subscription to the American Red Angus magazine to producers who have had an animal transferred to them. This expanded mailing increases readership to Red Angus customers, those producers using Red Angus genetics.
“THR is about far more than reporting birth and weaning weights,” said Ponder. “The integrity of the Red Angus breed is built on the honesty of the breeders and the reliability of the cattle they raise. Red Angus leadership set the bar high when they implemented THR. Today’s breeders are challenged to continue that tradition, ensuring they are producing the best possible genetics and that our stakeholders have confidence in Red Angus cattle all the way down the chain.” — Red Angus Association of America