Use EBVs to Lift your Profitability this Season
With the bull season upon us it’s a fitting time to revisit the realms of EBVs – though widely used in the beef industry nowadays, each season there are still a lot of conversations and questions about what they mean, how do we use them to their full potential and, why should we bother with them at all?
By definition, an animal’s breeding value is its genetic merit, half of which will be passed on to its progeny. While we will never know the exact breeding value, for performance traits it is possible to make good estimates. These estimates are called Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs).
Let’s face it – breeding cattle isn’t overly complex or difficult, but breeding cattle AND making a profit is not so straightforward. When it comes to the profitability of your commercial beef operation there are various important factors that need to be carefully considered; for the purpose of this blog, we will look at genetics.
Profit is driven by the average price you receive per kilogram and the kilograms of beef you produce per hectare. We can’t control the market and therefore the price per kilogram BUT we can, to an extent, influence the kilograms of beef per hectare. One way can do this is through genetics – using the right genetics in your herd to increase the ability of your cattle to grow faster, to be more muscular or more fertile, etc.
The challenge with genetics is you simply can’t see them in an animal. When you look at a bull or a cow, you can see its physical appearance. What you see is obviously a combined result of his genetics, his nutrition, and his environment. Essentially when selecting purely on the visual assessment you are ‘guessing’ as to whether he will suit your breeding programme and lift your profitability.
This is where EBVs come into their own – by eliminating a lot of that guesswork. The use of EBVs and in particular, those that have high accuracies, means you have a better estimation of the genetic potential of that animal to contribute those traits to your herd. High accuracies mean that data on those genetics have been recorded in numerous programs and environments. This offers you a better insight into the genetic potential of an animal and therefore an opportunity to make a more informed selection.
There is no denying the fact that the world of EBVs can seem overwhelming with so much information to analyse and digest, and as a result, there are still commercial breeders who select bulls based on visual assessment alone – but this is likely done at the expense of potential profit.
The trick to avoiding information overload is to narrow down the list of EBVs to only those applicable to your particular production system. This will help make selection easier and genetic progress faster in those traits. For example, if your breeding objective is to target the weaner markets then you should be placing a lot of emphasis on the 200-Day Growth EBV, whereas if you grow your progeny out to slaughter as yearlings then the most relevant EBV for you will be the 600-Day Weight EBV as well as those that relate to carcase traits.
Ultimately, EBVs are the single best tool for making genetic progress and ultimately producing animals that are more profitable. In saying this it is important to remember, however, that they are not a crystal ball. An EBV is an estimation based on recordings and analysis and they should be used in conjunction with a visual assessment of structural soundness and temperament. Even with the most favourable EBVs, if a bull is not sound or displays an undesirable temperament then you should continue your search for the right fit.
A simple way to look at EBVs and how they can help your pursuit of profitability is – they’re an invaluable tool for helping to refine your search for a sire down to a manageable number that you will then assess for the physical attributes that compliment your breeding programme.
You can read about the specific EBVs in more detail on our website here, or alternatively, you can look at evidence-based examples of how EBVs work in this Beef + Lamb Better Beef Breeding paper here (read from page 24).