The ranchers’ guide to EPDs: profitable, simple, sustainable

Feb 7, 2014
by WLJ

With the goal of simplifying ranchers’ profit equation, Red Angus continues blazing new trails in the pursuit of providing commercial producers with concise genetic predictions.

Based on the concept of Economically Relevant Traits (ERTs), producers are equipped with tools that allow for selection on traits that directly impact profitability. These tools simplify the selection process and arm producers with the ability to better identify range bulls whose genetics will more positively impact profitability.

Red Angus delivers technology in a producer-friendly package. Red Angus’ inclusion of genomic data into EPDs provides genetic predictions with unsurpassed dependability. Expressing these EPDs on a multi-breed base allows for simplified selection decisions regardless of desired breed composition.

EPDs are the most reliable predictors of an animal’s true genetic merit. As the only major beef breed to mandate Total Herd Reporting (THR), Red Angus EPDs have the built-in advantage of being calculated from 15 years of complete contemporary group data. EPDs have “fasttracked” beef cattle improvement and removed much of the guesswork associated with selecting range bulls.

EPDs predict differences in progeny performance and are calculated from comparisons within contemporary groups—a group of calves that are born in the same year, calving season and herd, are of the same sex and are fed and managed alike.

EPDs have a clear advantage over less sophisticated predictors such as actual weights or within-herd ratios. Actual and adjusted weights are affected by environment, nutrition and management. Contemporary group ratios are an improvement, as they account for these environmental variables. However, they do not incorporate comparative performance data on related individuals in countless herds throughout the country. Red Angus EPDs account for these sources of variation in performance, as well as mating bias (which cows were bred to which bulls). The power of these genetic predictions is multiplied by including every contemporary group from herds in the entire Red Angus breed.

Compare EPDs across breeds All animals in Red Angus and Simmental’s multi-breed database are described using the same language. That is, their EPDs are published on the same multi-breed base and scale. Selection for growth (BW, WW, YW, Milk) and carcass (MARB, YG, CW, REA, FAT) EPDs are greatly simplified as commercial customers are able to directly compare these EPDs across breeds, as well as with registered hybrids and composite seedstock.

Absolute performance is not predictable. Relative performance is.

For example: Suppose your old herd bull has a YW EPD of 50. You buy a new bull with a YW EPD of 70. How much will the new bull boost your calves’ yearling weights?

Predictions cannot be made of exactly how performance will change from one year to the next because of varying environmental conditions (rainfall, temperature, available feedstuffs, etc.). However, the relative performance is knowable: the calves raised in the same contemporary group sired by your new bull will have the genetics to weigh an average of 20 pounds more at 365 days of age as compared to calves sired by the old bull.

Understanding accuracy

Red Angus EPDs are often presented with a corresponding accuracy value, which measures the strength of the relationship between the genetic prediction (EPD) and true genetic value. Accuracies are reported as a decimal number from 0 to 1.0. As accuracy value approaches 1.0, the EPD is “accurately” or closely estimating the true genetic merit of an animal for a given trait. Although lowaccuracy EPDs are less reliable when compared to those of proven sires, independent research demonstrates EPDs to be the most meaningful indicator of animals’ true genetic merit. While “perfect” accuracies of 1.0, are never achieved, many heavily used Red Angus sires have accuracies greater than 0.9 (some as high as .99).

Rancher-trusted EPDs

EPDs are only as good as the data used to calculate them. This fact led Red Angus to implement THR over two decades ago, and Red Angus continues to be the only breed association to mandate THR for the collective Red Angus cow herd. In a nutshell, THR requires the annual production of every Red Angus cow and the performance of every calf raised through weaning to be reported.

Only THR allows for the accurate calculation of fertility and longevity traits which are the largest drivers in cow herd profitability. With THR, ranchers can know which daughters that were exposed to breeding delivered a calf. With THR, better predictions about which bulls’ daughters are able to bring a calf to the weaning pen year after year can be made.

Ranchers make more accurate selection decisions and ultimately more profit when they buy bulls whose EPDs are backed by THR.

Jump starting accuracy

Red Angus’ strong foundation of THR data combines with genomic data from 50K tests to provide EPDs with unsurpassed reliability. The information gained from genomic data can be as informative as a bull’s first calf crop, or a cow’s lifetime production record. Producers have nothing new to learn with the incorporation of 50K data. This powerful combination of information will simply be delivered in the form of higher accuracy EPDs.

Recognizing the importance of heterosis to the success of the beef industry, Red Angus has partnered with the American Simmental Association by merging databases and calculating true multi-breed EPDs. This collaboration allows for the precise determination of heritable genetics and delivers that information to producers in the form of EPDs that can be directly compared, regardless of breed composition.

Red Angus’ EPDs are truly ranch tested through the incorporation of both THR and 50K data, and give Red Angus stakeholders a whole new level of trustworthiness as they utilize data to make informed genetic selections. — RAAA