Feedlot trial provides producers valuable input
Each fall, when ranchers unload their weaned calves at Darnall Feedlot for the annual feedlot trial, it is the beginning of a collection of data that ranchers can use to make important management decisions. The trial, which is open to anyone with any number of head, allow producers to receive performance and carcass data at the end of the trial, which gives them a good idea of what type of cattle they produce.
“It is our hope that once they get all this data back and analyze it, they are able to utilize it by making them better managers of their ranches,” according to Gary Darnall, owner of Darnall Feedlot in Harrisburg, Neb. Producers utilize the data for many purposes ranging from performance traits to better carcasses; however, many producers use the data to evaluate their sires.
Sire selection is becoming more important as producers work toward producing a product the consumer wants to purchase. “We are trying to find out what a sire produces as far as carcass quality,” Darnall explained. “Ranchers can use the data they get from this trial to compare carcasses from different sires and determine which one produces a better product. Ultimately, we want to produce a carcass the consumer wants. Consumers are looking for a product with tenderness and juiciness,” he explained.
Dr. Ken Cook, a veterinarian in the Sidney, Neb., area, has participated in the IRM feedlot trial practically since its inception. “I think it is a great trial,” he explained. “I don’t understand why more people don’t participate. It is very eductional, and we have the opportunity to hear good speakers who keep us informed about the industry,” he said.
Cook, who was traditionally a purebred Simmental breeder, has moved into a crossbreeding program with Angus as a result of the data he has received from the feedlot trial. “I use the data from the trial to determine which sires to use for my crossbreeding program,” he explained. “I am looking for the sires that produce the best ribeyes and choice carcasses. Since I changed my operation to a crossbreeding program with Simmental and Angus, I have produced calves with larger ribeyes and more choice carcasses,” he explained. “I would recommend the program to anyone, because it provides the right input to make good management decisions.”
Darnall said many times producers will put five calves into the trial from each sire they wish to evaluate. “Some put less, some put more, but the more you have for each bull, the better the accuracy will be,” he explained. “This test isn’t real reliable because there isn’t enough head, but it is a good indicator – especially if a producer participates in the trial more than one year.”
The trial is an indication of feedlot performance. Producers receive data on feed conversion or feed per pound of gain, which has fairly high predictability. “If the sire has it, the offspring should have it depending upon whether that trait is enhanced or diluted by the dam,” Darnall explained.
Producers can also use the data to evaluate the carcass, how big the ribeye is, how much marbling a sire produces, and the percentage of choice and select carcasses. “We are all striving to produce more choice cattle,” Darnall said. “We also want to produce larger ribeyes without increasing the size of the animal.”
Ranchers can evaluate marbling and backfat, which relate to yield grade 1, 2, or 3. “What we are trying to find out is what that sire can produce as far as carcass quality,” he explained. “The rancher can take the data from this trial and compare it among his sires to determine which one produces the best product.”
The problem with the sire evaluation trial is the amount of time it takes to collect the data. “I think you would want to have at least five calves per sire, and do it more than one year,” Darnall said. “If you collect data on a sire for three years, and the sire is only in the herd five years, you’ve learned about the genetics of the bull when the bull is approaching the point where he won’t be used any more. Where I see this data being beneficial is once you know the genetics of a particular bull, you could go and purchase those same genetics,” he explained.
Producers who are interested in evaluating sires are encouraged to choose representative calves from each sire. “To get a good sample, I would look at the day of age of the animal, and pick a representative sample from each sire,” Darnall explained. “I would also look at the dam, and pick calves from dams of the same average age. I wouldn’t pick calves from heifers or older cows,” he said. “The idea is to select calves from dams that are similar in age so the dam’s influence doesn’t figure much into the trial.”
Darnall said some ranchers in the group also like to evaluate how their calves compare to other rancher’s calves in the group. “If they performed really well, they may use that as a marketing tool. They may market those as calves who placed in the top 20 percent of cattle on test,” he explained. “They also use calves with good feed conversion as a marketing tool.”
Many producers also like to evaluate the data to see where they need to improve. “Maybe they need to produce calves with less backfat, more ribeye size, or better carcass traits,” he said.
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It’s time for Colorado meat producers to throw down the gauntlet.