Genetics: Stack the deck in your favor


WOOSTER, Ohio — Bulls are essential, but they’re not the whole ball game in herd genetics. Traits can be influenced more readily if your breeding program takes into account both the paternal and maternal sides of the equation.

“Each parent transmits a random sample of half of his or her genes to the calves,” said Sally Northcutt, genetic research director for the American Angus Association.

“We recognize that a sire has more impact for commercial producers who retain replacement heifers. Sire choices influence those daughters that are coming into production.”


Producers who want to change their herds may consider stacking genetics.

“The old-fashioned way to do that was just looking at the pedigree to find daughters of this bull or daughters of that bull,” she said.

“Now we think more in terms of looking at the EPDs (expected progeny differences) and setting up criteria for those economically relevant traits.”

The Certified Angus Beef Best Practice Manual suggests stacking traits, and gives other selection tips for hitting the Certified Angus Beef target.

Mike Kasten, who runs 300 Angus cows near Millersville, Mo., has been using that strategy for more than 10 years.

“We’d like to get as much carcass as possible without sacrificing anything else,” he said.

“With the Angus breed, there are so many to pick from, so that’s not hard to do. We try to use proven bulls and try to get bulls that produce really nice females that work for us.”


Kasten has eight cooperating producers in an alliance program, where he makes breeding decisions and later buys the steer progeny to feed out. Data from his early feeding experiences illustrate what can be achieved with focused selection.

In one feedlot pen in 1999, calves sired by bulls with unknown or below average marbling graded 56 percent USDA Choice and higher, with 25 percent making Certified Angus Beef.

By contrast, steers in that pen with three generations of pressure on bulls for above-average marbling, graded not only 100 percent Choice, but 100 percent Certified Angus Beef and Prime.

“We’ve always used bulls with positive carcass, but now we’re trying to stack it even harder,” Kasten said.

“The Prime premium has nothing but potential as demand continues to grow for that product.”


After several years of applying such pressure, Kasten’s calves regularly grade 90 percent Choice or higher, and about 50 percent Certified Angus Beef, including Prime.

“Those cows with more generations of stacking will produce calves that go higher than that.”

The method he and his cooperators use is simple, Kasten said.

“When I select my heifers, I pick pedigrees that I think have the most potential for carcass quality,” he said.

“Then I go out and visually pick those heifers that fit the phenotypic profile we’d like to have.”

He also uses cow data to see how their mothers have performed. Northcutt said such tracking is a key to making decisions.

“You have to determine the current level of performance in your cowherd,” she said. “Then you have to develop those areas where you want to make directional change. That goes back to selecting the sire on their EPDs for economically relevant traits.”

If a producer is buying replacement heifers, Northcutt suggests they learn the genetics of those animals.

The Best Practices Manual sets up minimum criteria for cattlemen who want to produce more Certified Angus Beef. Traits include marbling, ribeye area and backfat, as well as using the $ Grid value index.

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