Show-Me Select genomics add profits for beef owners

Duane Dailey

I’d rather have been on a sale barn bleacher Friday night. But, I was home, waiting for results from two Show-Me-Select heifer sales.

Planners in Southwest and North Central Missouri chose Nov. 17 for sales. Stacked winter meetings challenge farmers also.

Show-Me-Select is the top heifer development program in the nation. Dave Patterson, MU Extension, brought the idea from Kentucky 20 years ago.

That’s Missouri beef producers’ gain. I doubt Dave knew what he wrought, two decades ago. Improvements continue.

Now, we’re in the data age of selecting heifers. It took time for some ideas to catch fire. That’s with producers who breed replacement heifers — and buyers.

I see learning when bidders pay top dollars for heifers.

Now judging heifers takes looking at data, and the numbers abound.

At first, data came from performance tests, which still go on. Feedlots provide testing for calves from mating cow and bull genetics.

There are lots of performance tested bulls, which are needed. That gives us numbers called EPDs, or expected progeny differences. Those numbers guide progress to be made in calf growth.

The biggest developments now are DNA tests. The cow genome opened many new ways. Much can be learned from a drop of blood from the ear of a calf. DNA tells all.

But numbers become overwhelming. How do you pick, choose and mix? So geneticists came up with one new number that combines lots.

At MU Thompson Farm, Jared Decker, MU Extension geneticist, said: The most important trait for herd owners, profits.

Scientists computerized the numbers to make one number. It ranks cattle on their potential profits. One name is “Dollar Beef.” That’s shortened to “$B.”

Each bovine breed takes its own test to give accuracy. In the sale catalog, Friday, the most common test was GeneMax. That’s for Angus.

It’s important to test all females in the herd.

Decker showed examples at Thompson Farm two years ago. Top profit cows and calves were penned beside low pairs from the herd. Yep you might guess looks and genetics may not match up. The moneymaking cow in her working clothes might not look good. But, her calf will get dollar premiums.

It takes time to wrap our minds around new ways of thinking. It’s a change from phenotype (looks) to genotype (calf potential.) The data has exceptions. How a cow looks when she walks still plays a part in picking herd replacements. Looks count.

There’s a shift seen in both sales this past week. Black Angus and Red Angus are about even in entries.

A new class has been added to the heifer sales. They are Show-Me Plus heifers. They have the genomic testing.

The previous top class was called “Tier II” heifers. Those have stacked genetics. Their mama was bred to a top proven sire and the heifer is bred to a top proven sire. EPD numbers are set in the specifications.

All of that comes in the sales catalog from which bidders learn added value. It’s in the data. Bidders are learning to look in the book.

For the second year at Joplin the highest premiums paid by bidders went to genomic-tested heifers. This year, that premium was $266. That’s dollars above sale-average price.

Here’s another surprise. Out of state bidders buy our best heifers. I guess heifers in their home state can’t compete. Bidders have come from 20 states to buy our quality. But we can do better in marketing.

Another factoid: Friday, heifers sold almost the same, one end of state to the other. Joplin averaged $1,867 to Kirksville’s $1,872. Is that luck? Maybe bidders now know the worth of top heifers.

It’s fun watching heifer development change. Recall that agriculture is top revenue source in Missouri, with beef cows adding the most income. MU research and extension help.

Send your ideas to or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo. I need your help figuring out what’s needed.