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The selection problem, that of choosing which individuals become parents, is inherent in all of beef production. This problem almost invariably involves evaluating animals on more than one trait and making compromises among traits to arrive at a final evaluation of each candidate for selection. In a capitalist society, profitability seems a logical unit of expression for that final evaluation. It is certainly the basis of evaluation intended in the original development of selection index in the animal sciences (Hazel and Lush, 1942; Hazel, 1943). Thus, a desire on the part of producers to maximize profitability is assumed throughout this presentation.
Profitability implies a buy-sell transaction takes place and thus seemingly suggests that it is maximized by producing the product of greatest value to the customer at least cost. These changes in profitability are usually referred to as relative economic values. It is the relative economic values which provide direction to the selection program. The knowledge that most genetic improvement is made by seedstock breeders and recognition of consumers as implicit customers (commercial producers, feedlot operators and etc. are intermediaries) has led to the philosophy that seedstock selection decisions be based on ultimate customer satisfaction. Said differently, seedstock selection decisions should be made in a way that maximizes profitability for the entire industry as though it were one vertically integrated production system.
Existence of industry-wide specifications for beef product, such as those proposed as a result of the national beef quality audit (National Cattlemen's Beef Association, 1995), do not suggest that there should be industry-wide selection indexes. Resources available for production (classically: land, labor, capital, and management) and level of production vary among production units resulting in different economic structures. As a result, relative economic values will differ among production units and each may have a different selection index. It is unlikely that there will be a "one size fits all" solution to the problem of selecting breeding stock to maximize profit.