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Let’s be honest, the goals for every cattle operation, no matter what species of cattle, are to make a return on their investment while also creating a genotypically and phenotypically superior animal. To achieve both of those feats an agriculturist must start from the roots. To make a profitable animal they must sell it for more than what has been spent on it and for it to be superior, it must have improved genetics and breed qualities than the parents.


The average American rancher in 2018 ran about 44 head of cattle according to the 2018 USDA NASS Census of Agriculture. Here in eastern North Dakota, it would take about 1035.4 acres of land to be able to feed every single one of those cows for 12 months without supplemental food sources. To put that into perspective, starting from nothing with those numbers, you would be looking at about $1.2 million, with that accounting for the average cost of a four-year-old cow (USDA) plus the average price of an acre of pastureland in North Dakota (Land.ND). If we do not include any other costs into that total, a rancher would need to average about $1400 on every calf for 22.8 years before they make enough money back to offset the INITIAL buy-in costs.

With that being said, there is little room for error when a rancher is tracking and averaging their profit and losses. The importance of tracking your operation financially is dire to the longevity of your business. A business cannot continue to run if it is not creating any profit. Finding the balance between what your operation can afford to spend, and its improvement is how you can turn your operation from a good one to a great one. The easiest method of improvement for operations is genetic improvement and it is also the most profitable for breeding programs. How do you start to improve your herds' genetics? It is simple.


Step One: Create a set of desired traits you want to keep within your herd

Step Two: Track and record individual animal measurements, breeding information, lineage, birth records, treatments, body score, etc.

Step Three: Analyze data trends within your herd to understand which animals are producing the genetics you are seeking

Step Four: Make informed decisions on which animals to cull and sell and which animals to keep for the best genetics


Data collection and analysis is defined as the process of gathering and measuring information on targeted variables in an established system, which then enables one to answer relevant questions and evaluate outcomes. Data collection in cattle has a lot of different faces. The most common type is expected progeny differences (EPD) in registered cattle. EPD’s predict the genetic transmission of desired traits from parents to offspring. This allows for the breeder to make management decisions as well as breeding decisions based on what they want to improve in their herd. Another typical example of data collection is Performance Data collection. This type of collection is typically categorized into 9 different sectors according to the American Simmental Association. Including but not limited to, Birth Weight, Calving Ease, Teat and Udder, Body Condition, Weight, Docility, Feet and Legs, Carcass, and Fertility/Health (SimGenetics). These different areas all serve a specific purpose in the genetic makeup and doability of the cattle themselves.

By collecting this data, you are actively improving your herd without even knowing it. The more quantitative and qualitative data on your herd the more opportunities there are for improvement.

For example, look at John Dilks, a purebred Charolais breeder in Southern Colorado. In an interview conducted by New Horizons, the official agriculture magazine of FFA, he goes on to talk about how he took over his in-law's herd in 2017. His main goal in the operation was to increase the herd milking percentage, which he said he attempted to do by introducing two bulls with optimal milk scores of 30.1(Bull A) and 28.7(Bull B). For perspective, both rank in the 85th percentile for the breed. In comparison to his cows, which had an average score of 18.4 in the 55th percentile. His endeavor was in fact successful, and the offspring began to show an improved score. However, after a couple of calving seasons, Dilks began to see a physical decline in the offspring, in their body condition, and in their yearling weights. Thankfully, he and his wife had been collecting their herd’s performance data for the past couple of years and could tell that only the offspring of Bull A were having these problems. As a result, Dilks sold Bull A and any of his offspring in production to remove those genetics from the herd. Dilks said had they not been collecting the performance data on those offspring; chances are he would have bought entirely new bulls and found himself back at point A, just this time down some extra cash.

The same principle goes for seed stock and feeders, not just cow/calf operations. Seedstock breeders provide genetics and breeding options that are utilized by commercial producers that are optimal for market cattle. It is essential those breeders understand what they are producing and can show the data to support their decisions. In most cases, seed stock bulls and cows will be used to support the feeder market. Therefore, these sires and dams need to be selected and formed based on the desired traits of a market animal. By utilizing performance data such as carcass, breeders can evaluate their sires to see which are grading the highest and yielding the best. Thus, allowing them to constantly improve their genetics, while at the same time, creating a more productive and profitable animal. From a feeder’s perspective, a calf that can be at their feedlot on feed for less time and still get to its desired weight is always better. The only way to do that is to create a calf capable of growing and maturing faster as well as a more favorable feeding routine. This can be achieved by using the example mentioned before of selecting a sire and dam with optimal market-ready traits such as high weaning weight and a good carcass value and breeding them to create superior offspring. Then a feeder operation can utilize their data collection of the cutability scores or percentage of grades from their cattle to construct a more aggressive feeding routine. A higher cutability score means leaner meat which tells the feedlots to introduce more corn into the cattle's diets for a fattier more marbled meat. This eliminates the cost of unnecessary feed and gives the calf the optimal rations for growth which improves turnover time.

The effort put into recording and storing this data is no easy task. However, many programs are now being utilized to help aid ranchers in their efforts. Breed organizations are paying their breeders for the carcass result on their animals as well as sponsoring operations in their efforts to create routines to track animals and their reactions to certain environmental factors. This helps breeders profit not only from their records and data but also most importantly profits their herd in the long run. Which makes ranchers more susceptible to partaking in these types of management practices. Furthermore, companies like our own and Neogen have created new technological tools to help aid you in your efforts. With our technology, 701x Autonomous Rancher® cattle producers connect directly to their herd's records from anywhere. When using our xTpro™ smart cattle tags for their operation, performance metrics and tracking data are automatically collected to give these ranchers an even more clear understanding of their herd's performance. By being able to take the guesswork out of doing it by hand, you are more likely to have accurate results and an overall higher success rate. Allowing these ranchers and operations the opportunity to manage their maternal, performance, and carcass data on an easier platform makes their lives less stressful and their pockets a little fuller.


Data collection is the most essential tool an operation can use no matter its size or type. It helps aid in the improvement of not only your herd but others around you, as well as the profitability of your business. Without it, genetic improvement would be somewhat impossible, and animals would be merely picked based on their physical attributes. Once again, leaving ranchers with an inferior animal. Going back to that universal goal of every breeder, a genetically superior and more profitable animal cannot be achieved without data collection, the basis of animal improvement.


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