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Dr. Jamie Courter is your Mizzou Beef Genetics Extension Specialist

By Jared E. Decker Many of you have probably noticed that things have been a lot less active on the A Steak in Genomics™   blog, but you probably haven't known why. In January 2021, I was named the Wurdack Chair in Animal Genomics at Mizzou, and I now focus on research, with a little bit of teaching. I no longer have an extension appointment. But, with exciting news, the blog is about to become a lot more active! Jamie Courter began as the new MU Extension state beef genetics specialist in the Division of Animal Sciences on September 1, 2023. I have known Jamie for several years, meeting her at BIF when she was a Masters student. I have been impressed by Jamie in my interactions with her since that time.  Dr. Courter and I have been working closely together the last 6 weeks, and I am excited to work together to serve the beef industry for years to come! Jamie holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from North Carolina State University and earned a master's degree in animal

Calving Ease and the Law of Diminishing Returns

Red angus cows oregon
By Darcy Vial
USDA FSA Oregon via Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tom Brink
Reprinted from the Red Angus eNews - October 4, 2017

Calving ease is especially important in first-calf females, and is therefore something we pay close attention to when breeding virgin heifers. In fact, calving ease considerations usually rank first on the list when selecting bulls to use on heifers.  

Red Angus bulls often see service on heifers thus, mapping the relationship between calving ease EPDs (CED) and unassisted births is a worthwhile task. The better Red Angus breeders understand this relationship, the better selection and mating decisions they can make for themselves and their customers.

The curved line shown in the chart below was statistically derived from tens of thousands of Red Angus calving records stored in the RAAA database. All of the calvings are from first parity females bred to bulls ranging from -8 to 20 for CED. This line captures the “average” or “typical” experience calving heifers as the sires’ CED goes from the low end to the high end of the Red Angus bell curve.  

As expected, bulls with a higher CED produce a greater number of unassisted births. Conversely, bulls with low single digit or negative CEDs generally cause more calving difficulty. The shape of the curve also provides useful perspective. Note that moving from -8 to 0 for CED results in a sharp increase in unassisted births. That’s obviously a good thing. It’s also why we don’t see many heifers bred to negative CED bulls.    

Unassisted births improve further when moving from a CED of 0 up to the 8-10 area. This improvement is significant in magnitude, but the incremental benefit of each additional one-point increase in CED is now becoming smaller as the law of diminishing returns is taking effect. 

Moving up the curve from a 10 to 15 CED provides a bit more benefit but the incremental advantage is now very small. Over 15, the line flattens out completely, which means there is no practical difference in unassisted births for bulls having CEDs ranging from 15 to 20 or above.  Unless a group of heifers are small in size, have inadequate pelvic area, and/or are underdeveloped at the time of calving, we would not expect any difference in calving difficulty between a bull with a CED of 14 or 15 versus one whose CED is 19 or 20. In that zone, the law of diminishing returns is in full control, stamping out any more benefit completely.

As a final thought, don’t forget that EPD accuracies matter a great deal when making mating decisions in which calving ease is critical. It may in some situations be better to use a high-accuracy bull with a lower but still acceptable CED instead of one with a higher CED that is unproven with low accuracy.

Decker's Take Home Message
It is so easy to want to select for maximums. We need to remind ourselves to select for optimums. 
The Missouri Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program requires Red Angus service sires to have a CED EPD greater than 8. Artificial insemination (AI) sires must have an EPD accuracy greater than 0.6.


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