Date of this Version
Beef cattle production in the United States remains largely a segmented rather than integrated industry. The needs and goals of the various segments of the production chain, with respect to production specification targets, are often different and sometimes conflicting. The resulting inadequate response of the industry to consumer needs has occurred at the same time as intensified competition from pork and poultry products, each of which has contributed to the decline of beef consumption.
Seedstock and commercial cow-calf producers represent particularly important links in the beef production chain because they have primary control of the genetics and produce the ''raw material" used by all sectors of the industry. Producers have been told that they must produce cattle that are profitable to the entire industry. However, Melton (1995, 1997) has shown that economic incentives have generally been considerably different for a producer selling calves at weaning than for an enterprise which fully integrates all aspects of production from conception to consumption. Thus, when contemplating changes in breeding programs to benefit other sectors of the industry, producers must question the effects of such changes on their own economic well-being. Variation can be thought of as the raw material with which to make change in production, and its control is a topic of much interest in today's beef industry. This paper will discuss the potential and limitations for control of variation, and address some of the issues that should be considered with respect to the design of breeding programs and impact of genetic decisions.