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Published February 07, 2014, 11:19 AM

Grabbing the bull by the EPDs

The act of purchasing a bull is turning more and more into an exact science. With advancements in modern technology — especially in the world of genetics and expected progeny difference — producers are faced with the task of keeping up with changes in an agriculture industry that always quick to change.

By: Bryan Horwath , Forum News Service

The act of purchasing a bull is turning more and more into an exact science.

With advancements in modern technology — especially in the world of genetics and expected progeny difference — producers are faced with the task of keeping up with changes in an agriculture industry that always quick to change.

“The beef business is such a long-term business,” said North Dakota State University Extension beef specialist Kris Ringwall. “If you have a cow and you put her out there, she could be out there for 10 to 15 years. If you look at cows and how you guide what genetics match the environment, it’s to make sure you buy the right bulls.”

Ringwall presided over a workshop Thursday at the Dickinson Research Extension Center where producers learned about several new techniques being used today to help them zero in on exactly the type of bull they need. About two dozen people attended or participated in Thursday’s session, including experts like Ben Lohmann of ABS Global, and Don and Sarah Norby of Badlands Genetics in Amidon. They are representatives for ABS.

“There are more tools to use when buying now than there ever has been,” Ringwall said. “There is a lot of stuff to know and, sometimes, producers may not necessarily know all this information. First of all, you have to know what you’re looking for, as far as being a black bull or a red bull. But, genetically, we look for what comes with the package.”

Rodney Holzkamm of Reeder said he has attended the workshop for the past two years, including Thursday, and is happy he did.

“I want to put good heifers on the ground and using these techniques — that’s how you do it,” Holzkamm said. “When you talk about EPDs and some of things they have out there today, they’ve done the work for you. You just have to know what you’re looking for. I think it’s really productive to go to events like this because what was new last year could be old this year. Things are always changing.”

Traditionally, Ringwall said, people have purchased bulls based on phenotype, but today much more information is readily available that could help producers find exactly what they’re looking for in a bull. That is, if those producers are willing to invest the time studying expected progeny differences.

“Today, this entire field of genomics and understanding DNA is growing rapidly in the beef business,” Ringwall said. “When you have the performance and the DNA makeup of bulls, you have a pretty strong predictor as to what that bull is going to be. In the EPD world, we convert everything to numbers, so you can take your goals, convert that to numbers, and zero in on what you want. If you look at the poultry industry today, it’s all driven by data and the beef industry is moving in that direction.”

Tom Murphy, who ranches north of Killdeer, said Thursday during the workshop that he was able to soak up some ideas that could help him move his herd forward.

“We have a good set of commercial cows,” Murphy said. “But we’re trying to take that to the next level. We’re looking for two bulls for our herd and there’s a lot of information out there. From some of the things we talked about today, we’ll be able to pick up a magazine with 400 bulls in it and work that down the 10 percent of those that fit what we’re looking for. The market is really hot right now and it’s an exciting time to be in the business.”

Ringwall said the beef industry has been moving more toward technological advances and data-driven practices each year.

“If you’re going to invest money into a business or an industry, you’re going to want to protect that investment by using the best technology you can,” Ringwall said. “In this case, this piece of the industry — DNA and data — is the technology and it gets more accurate every year. Most producers don’t mind yesterday. It was good. Cattle is an old business, but it does change and you have to change with it.”

Though the beef industry will continue to move in the direction of being data-driven, Ringwall said it remains a practice that will always involve a certain amount of people-to-people interaction and, at least for much of the industry, center around the art of husbandry.

Ringwall hosted a workshop in Bismarck last month as well and said he is more than willing to set up additional information sessions for individuals or small groups on bull buying.

“The biggest mistake producers make when buying a bull is giving up their goal,” Ringwall said. “My advice is to stick to that goal and get what you want in a bull.”

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