PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s beef industry will celebrate a milestone at the end of March: 40 years of improving genetics through the Pennsylvania Performance Bull Testing Program.
The test, administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Evaluation Center in Rock Springs, outside of State College, has provided Pennsylvania’s beef industry with a way to measure traits that can be passed from one generation to the next through bulls.
The test measures traits using uniform housing and feeding for impartial evaluation of each bull. After completing a 112-day performance test, select bulls consigned by beef producers from across the region are auctioned off at the center the last Friday of March.
Those top-performing bulls are put to work in herds from New England to the Gulf Coast, in the Midwest and overseas.
Since the first bull test in 1973, the center has adapted with advancing technology, offering more information on bulls and enhancing their marketability to potential buyers. Careful guidance and foresight have developed the center into a regional hub for improving the beef industry.
Early evaluation efforts in Pennsylvania included a progeny test, where five or six sons of a bull would be grown to a predetermined weight. The steers would then be slaughtered and carcass measurements taken to determine the performance of the bulls that sired the steers.
That test sought to identify bulls that would sire the best, most improved cattle, and call them “Certified Meat Sires.”
“With 10 small pens of six to eight steers, the progeny test was limited on space,” said Penn State veterinarian Lester Griel, who serves the center. “When new studies emerged that showed that the sire’s characteristics were a strong indicator of offspring performance, the testing program shifted to bull testing. That allowed testing to be completed more quickly with capacity for more bulls.”
Then and now
The first performance bull tests were 140 days long, reporting data derived from weights taken at points in the test as well as estimated carcass measurements.
The first test evaluated 53 bulls — mostly Charolais and Angus. Its sale averaged $1,020.
Throughout its existence, the testing program added data categories and improved on technology. Breed associations introduced expected progeny differences, evaluations of an animal’s genetic worth; the center began administering breeding soundness exams; and ultrasound technology, available from the start, improved in accuracy and usability.
Having outgrown its old testing station, the program moved in 2003 to its current grounds near Penn State’s Ag Progress Days site. The move allowed the center to expand the scope of its bull testing program and become the regional evaluation center it is today, hosting bulls from neighboring states as well as homegrown stock.
Today, participating bulls complete a shorter 112-day performance test with a three week break from the intensive feeding regimen before the sale. Program records provide snapshots of decades of industry improvement through feed technology and genetics. Average daily gain for the 1973 bull test was between 2-3.5 pounds. In 2013, average daily gain ranges from 3-5.24 pounds.
Improving the industry
Productivity has increased in nearly 75 percent of performance-tested bull buyers’ herds, according to a survey of those producers.
Through improvements in carcass traits, feed efficiency and genetics passed to the next generation, these bulls are an asset to the regional beef industry and its economy.
Bulls also improve offspring performance in feedlots and as replacement females, ensuring breeders’ investments will pay off.
Centrally located within Pennsylvania, the center serves beef producers from across the region. Even as EPDs and genomic testing become more important, the center provides real-world information and bulls for a regional beef industry with smaller cow numbers.
The test remains important for beef producers. And it adapts with the times, turning to Web video site YouTube to show producers videos of the bulls being offered for sale. LiveAuctions.tv will stream auction video live on the web, giving producers a chance to bid from their farms. Sale catalogs are available from the center’s website, as are bull pictures and other information.
The 40th Anniversary Performance-Tested Bull Sale will take place March 29, at noon at the center. Four decades in, the center’s timeless mission holds true to its roots, improving beef cattle in the region and helping feed the world more efficiently than ever.
The center also offers testing programs for goats, pigs and sheep throughout the year and is available to host other livestock events.
Consign to any of the testing programs or receive a bull sale catalog by visiting www.livestockevaluationcenter.com or calling 814-238-2527.