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The goal of most beef production systems is to increase or at least maintain profitability. Producers can attempt to increase profitability in a variety of ways that might include reducing feed costs, changing their marketing program, or perhaps by changing the performance of their herd through genetic improvement. Focusing on this latter option, there are two primary genetic tools available: selection and mating where selection refers to the selection of breeding animals and mating includes which females are mated to which bulls, for example, crossbreeding systems. This paper focuses on the former, the selection of the appropriate animals for a production system with the goal to improve profitability.
The best tool available for making selection decisions is expected progeny differences (EPD). Over the years the number of EPD available to guide producers in making selection decisions has grown from 5 to over 15 in most cases. Simply put, the amount of information that the breeder must sift through to try to make a good selection decision has become overwhelming. The producer must determine which EPD have the greatest influence on their income and their expenses, and by how much—a daunting task. Historically this task has depended on the “intuition” and experience of the breeder. For instance, they know that selection for heavier weaning weight will increase the weight of calves sold at weaning, but that blind selection for weaning weight will also increase calving difficulty and if replacements are kept, likely increase cow size and feed costs. Breeders have been performing a balancing act with little concrete information on how important each of those traits is to their profitability. Fortunately, there are several tools that have recently become available to ease the process of combining the costs and the revenues of beef production with EPD to make selection decisions that will produce progeny which are more profitable.