Cattle producers in Colorado and the surrounding area have two big opportunities to learn more about the latest trends in beef cattle genetics during the coming year.

Cattle producers in Colorado and the surrounding area have two big opportunities to learn more about the latest trends in beef cattle genetics during the coming year.

In mid-September, the Red Angus Association of America is bringing its national convention to the Doubletree Hotel in Colorado Springs. The meeting includes a day-long commercial cattlemen’s seminar that is free to interested cattle producers.

Kevin Miller, of Briggsdale, is first vice president of the breed association, which is in the process of moving its headquarters from Denton, Texas, to Commerce City. Coloradan Tom Brink has been serving as the group’s chief executive since November 2015.

Miller is helping plan the convention and noted that commercial education is a long-standing tradition at the annual event.

Further down the road, Colorado State University and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association are preparing to co-host the 50th annual convention of the Beef Improvement Federation in conjunction with next year’s CCA convention at the Embassy Suites in Loveland.

The CCA meeting will conclude on June 20, 2018, and the BIF meeting will convene the following day.

The venue is fitting, since the BIF actually started in Colorado, said Troy Marshall, an Angus/Simmental breeder from Burlington. The annual bash brings together extension specialists, scientists, breed association officials, registered breeders and commercial producers for three days of in-depth presentations, discussions and tours.

Planning is already under way for next year’s event, with as many as 700 individuals expected to attend.

Colorado held a very successful event 10 years ago when it played host to the 40th annual BIF gathering in Fort Collins.

Venues for education and discussion are important, as the dynamic and rapidly changing field of genetic improvement incorporates new reproductive technologies and methodologies.

Marshall talked about how he was originally skeptical about genomics, which is based on DNA sampling, the latest advance to catch on in breeder circles, but his view has changed.

“We’ve gone all-in,” he said. “Even on the culls, we collect blood samples. It’s a way to make progress a lot quicker.”

As an example, he said the best bull prospect in his sale five years ago would rank in the bottom third of his offering today.

There’s lots of competition to provide the latest and best genetics, he noted, which means some seedstock producers won’t keep any cattle around that are older than three years of age. In some cases, semen from 8-month old bulls is being mated to embryos from 6-month-old heifers. He questioned whether such young animals have enough time to express important commercial traits like fertility, durability and longevity.

Still, he didn’t expect the trend to slow.

“I can see the day when we’ll be culling calves in a petri dish,” he said. “The rate of progress we’re going to see is just incredible. We’re already turning over genetics so much faster than we used to.”

Willie Altenburg, a registered Simmental breeder from Fort Collins, noted that when he started replacing actual birth weights with genomic EPDs in his sale catalogue, he met with pushback from some producers, even though the genetically enhanced information is intended to be more comprehensive.

Likely that was due to producers wanting more information rather than less and also to a learning curve as they adapt to new evaluation tools, commented Steve Wooten, a rancher and cow-calf producer from Kim.

“I remember when ratios were being replaced by EPDs. It took us a while to get used to that,” he said. “But I could see in 10 years everything being fully genomic.”

EPD, which stands for expected progeny differences, helps producers compare the genetic potential of each animal. By collecting and analyzing DNA samples, breeders improve the accuracy of those numbers because more genetic info is taken into account.

Wooten noted that anything that improves the productivity and efficiency of beef cattle also improves the industry’s record on sustainability.

Defining and measuring sustainability is top-of-mind for Wooten these days. He is one of the early members to join the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and part of a working group tasked with developing a set of sustainability indicators.

“We started on this later than a lot of the other commodities but we’re already further along in the process,” he said during one of several reports he made at the CCA convention. “It’s largely driven by retailers and what they want to communicate to their customers. But it is a collaborative process. I think we have the right people in place to work through it and make it a positive thing.”