Black Ink

Opinion
May 18, 2012

No cow left behind

It’s graduation season.

Students emerge from the school system ready to take on the world. Giving each one of them that chance was the impetus for the No Child Left Behind Act. The bill passed in 2001, meaning this year’s high school class spent most of its education course under the influence of what became a controversial law.

The idea was to get 100 percent of the students to pass the standardized tests in math and reading by 2014, with mandatory annual yearly progress (AYP) or schools lose local control of curriculum. Some critics say the program sets unrealistic goals and ignores the basic bell curve in abilities.

It’s a tricky subject when you’re talking about people, but imagine if Congress had passed a No Bovine Left Behind Act the same year. Just for fun, think about what your cowherd might look like today.

First, you’d have standards that your herd would have to meet. Maybe those would be minimum levels of fertility, calving ease and mothering ability. Perhaps it would include some threshold for weaning, yearling and carcass weight. Or even a step further: quality and yield grade targets. Fail to meet AYP and lose local control of your herd to some team of experts.

Just as all schools had goals before that legislation, you probably already had your own set of requirements, but maybe they got a tweak or two. Or a complete overhaul.

Then you had to decide how you were going to get every single cow to make the cut. It could be a combination strategy, using a little bit of synchronization and artificial insemination to tighten up your breeding season. Perhaps introducing some new technology, like DNA testing, could give you more information, faster. You could study some good old-fashioned expected progeny differences and pick genetics known for top females.

To comply, you’d likely seek out some expert advice, either from the government oversight team or, better yet, your choice of integrated resource managers. Nobody would want to risk “failing” for all to see, as the annual report card would be made public.

Come to think of it, that’s sort of what record-keeping has done for the beef business. If you’ve failed, the feeder knows it and, although he probably will remember, he doesn’t have to: The computer will remind him of that failure the next year when he looks at buying your cattle.

In your herd, there’s no room for babying those cows. In fact, you have no room for underperformance at any step.

But that’s all right. With livestock, you have more options: Either raise the level of your bottom quarter (or third or even half, depending on the outlook) of your cowherd, or load those underachievers and send ’em down the road.

If you’ve been on a fast track to improve genetics, perhaps you implemented your own version of this bill a long time ago. If not, you may want to consider a version that ensures you maintain control of your future. No Bovine Left Behind: It has a kind of ring to it, sort of like the clang of extra change, realized in more pennies per pound.

Next time in Black Ink® Steve Suther will look at perception, science and business. Questions? Call toll-free at 877-241-0717 or email mreiman@certifiedangusbeef.com. — Miranda Reiman

(“Black ink” is a cattle management column written by Steve Suther and Miranda Reiman of Certified Angus Beef. The column is not designed for strictly Angus producers, and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of WLJ or its editorial staff.)

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