Steve Suther: Black Ink 4-23-12 |

Steve Suther: Black Ink 4-23-12

By its simplest definition, a cliche is something you have heard before. Writers are taught to avoid using them unless it is with a twist or to “shine new light on” something previously unexplored or even imagined.

That takes a lot of work and besides, there are reasons to use a few cliches. Just so they don’t devolve into buzz words meant only to trip emotional triggers.

It goes without saying that you should know your cowherd like a well-worn phrase. Not to mention your bull battery, health program and weaning plan.

Sometimes it’s just more effective to refer to ideas with familiar phrases rather than reinventing the proverbial wheel.

We say “aim high” rather than pointing out that every cowherd is moving in some genetic direction, toward either better or lower quality beef, and it pays to aim high. Raising cattle with no goals is just going through the motions.

We talk about “adding value” to reference the predictable genetics in using registered bulls, individual ID, vaccinations and preconditioning as you wean.

“Partnering in retained ownership” is just a way to bring up the possible risk sharing you can get into with a feeding partner as calves are finished and value realized.

The ideas we bring up often include the goal of doing business so that you can profit as well as the next partner in the food chain, and we may even call it “win-win.” Just because you know these concepts does not make them stale from excessive familiarity.

On the other hand, people also use cliches to push our buttons, out of spite or to put down ideas that work against their opinions. Buzz words exist to hide or confuse the truth. That’s how we get phrases like “pink slime,” or when we hear “factory” applied to family farms, when people would rather act as a mob than communicate.

Cliche is a lot like conventional wisdom: what we know, what rings true.

But do we really know if these things are true, or just legendary?

There’s the black-hided herd of unknown genetics that finally gets feedlot and carcass data and it shows an average daily gain (ADG) better than 4 pounds and 70 percent qualifying for a premium brand. Then there’s the other side of that coin with a 2.8-pound. ADG and 30 percent discounts. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Just like in those stories about crossbreeding on the one hand (“free lunch”) and straightbreeding (ignorant of the above) on the other.

The truth is somewhere in between. Across-breed expected progeny differences (EPDs) can help compare bulls from different breeds, but they can’t change the fact that calves may favor one parent or the other.

DNA-marker-assisted selection has been held up as anything from a not-yet-ready tool to a silver bullet for the beef industry.

Time out: we’ve heard a long list of things that are “not a silver bullet,” so we should think about what a silver bullet IS: mythologically, it’s what can kill a werewolf. In modern usage, it’s a hypothetical cure-all. DNA testing in cattle should not be called a silver bullet.

But it can tell you more about your herd than any other tool outside of detailed individual records that extend through the feedlot and packinghouse.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Call it a truth or a cliche, but it is both. Your bottom line depends on measuring and then acting on the knowledge.

Next time in Black Ink Miranda Reiman will consider no bovine left behind. Questions? Call toll-free at (877) 241-0717 or e-mail

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