The Most Important Economic Trait

If profit is the goal, then fertility is by far the most important trait cow-calf producers should be selecting for.   Studies have shown reproductive traits are twice as important as growth traits, which are twice as important as carcass traits.   Ironically, the status quo beef industry has been selecting almost exclusively for growth and carcass traits for the last 40-plus years – all at the expense of reproduction.

Because the heritability of growth and carcass traits is very high, it is relatively easy to make changes in those traits.   Unfortunately, members of the status quo beef industry mistakenly believe that when it comes to growth and carcass traits, more and bigger are always better.   They forget the optimum level for most traits is almost never the same as the maximum level.

For at least 50 years, academics have told us the heritability of fertility is very low – so low we shouldn’t waste our time selecting for it.   I’m sure that if you were able to isolate fertility from everything else, then that assumption would appear to be true.   In the real world, however, nothing is isolated.   In fact, just the opposite is true.

Truth be known… it’s very easy to select for fertility.   Fertility is more a function of fleshing ability than of anything else – and fleshing ability is more a function of low maintenance requirements than of anything else.   Reproduction cannot take place until maintenance requirements have been met and cows are storing up energy reserves in the form of fat.   Since fleshing ability and maintenance requirements are very heritable, fertility is very heritable.

Over the last few years, Pharo Cattle Company has dared to compare the maintenance requirements of our cattle to cattle in other seedstock herds and to bulls in the major AI companies.   There really is NO comparison!   While nearly everyone else in the beef industry has been selecting almost exclusively for growth and carcass traits, we have spent the last 30 years selecting for efficient, low-maintenance cattle that can do the most for the least – the kind that can produce and reproduce with minimum inputs in many different environments.

No one sells as many ultra-low-maintenance bulls as Pharo Cattle Company.   Ironically, many PCC customers have told us they get as much or more growth from our so-called “low-growth” bulls as they did from the “high-growth” bulls they used to use.   How can that be?   It’s very simple… their environment cannot support the high-growth (high-maintenance) genetics they used to use.   It is like shooting a .30 caliber bullet out of a .22 caliber rifle.   It can’t be done!

2 responses to “The Most Important Economic Trait

  1. The problem with the universities is that they have their own definition of fertility. It has nothing to do with practical reproduction. That is what we need as cattlemen. And even if something isn’t very heritable, selecting for it is the only way to get it.

  2. As an “academic” I do teach that fertility is about 7% heritable and that environment is 93% of fertility. Which is why it is so important to select animals that genetically fit your environment. If you don’t pamper your cows, then you shouldn’t buy animals that are. If you buy PCC bulls, from producers that treat their livestock in a way similar to or tougher than your management style, there will not be any negative surprises. Bulls can gain weight during breeding, cows can stay in good flesh with limited inputs…

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