Now that you know the basics of how EPDs work, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of this breeding tool. How can you maximize its potential without running into its pitfalls?
- Proven effectiveness. EPDs work. If a producer has a goal, using EPDs to make breeding selections is a proven way to reach that goal and meet the demands of the market.
- Objectivity. An EPD is what it is what it is. No matter how much a producer tends to favor one bull over another, he can’t change the facts.
- Increased information. National cattle evaluations and the publication of EPDs have provided producers with easy access to invaluable information. Combine this with the power of the Internet, and an informed choice is right at every producer’s fingertips.
- Emphasis on performance. Prior to the creation of EPDs, the show ring tended to influence the fads in cattle breeding. EPDs emphasize productivity and profit.
- Risk for confusion. Too many producers use EPDs in ways that they were never intended to be used. Two of the most common mistakes are comparing the EPDs of bulls of different breeds and comparing an EPD generated in a previous year to a current EPD.
- Tendency for extremes. Beef cattle producers of many breeds have become caught up in races to improve their numbers without asking themselves if a particularly high or low score is beneficial. Often enough, breeding for extremes—such as massive weights and ribeye sizes—creates high-maintenance cattle.
- Tendency for single-trait selection. Some producers zero in on one trait to the exclusion of all others. They try to get the EPD for weaning weight, mature height, marbling, etc., just right, while forgetting that an animal is a whole package. All of the different traits that EPDs are calculated for are important, and they all interact. For instance, selecting for heavier yearling weights can also increase birth weights, and selecting for heavier milk production is linked to reduced carcass quality.
- Paper genetics. A tool is nothing more than a tool. It is not the goal. No matter how good the numbers look, if the results don’t perform well in a working environment, they aren’t useful.
Perhaps you have noticed that the problems with EPDs are really problems with the ways that people misuse them. EPDs are useless unless the producer sets a realistic goal and then uses the numbers to reach that goal, keeping the whole picture in mind.
Information is a great thing—when used the way it was intended to be used.