As recently as the 1960s, the Hereford breed registered more cattle than all of today’s breeds combined. Many other Continental breeds’ growth peaked in the 1980s with numerous breeds registering over 50,000 head. However, today the only breeds that reach the 50,000-head plateau are Angus, Red Angus and Hereford. Additionally, Simmental is not far behind in terms of critical mass, however, most breeds have experienced a significant decline in registrations and the revenue associated with it.

Traditionally, the services desired by breeders from their associations have included: herdbook; performance database; information technology and programming; breed improvement; research; breed marketing; promotion; commercial marketing; magazine; field staff; registry; junior program; physical plant; and comptroller.

However, the number of breeds that can maintain this full list of services is few, so associations must learn to cooperate in order to survive and remain relevant. This cooperation includes taking advantage of services offered by the National Center for Beef Excellence (NCBE) and International Genetic Solutions (IGS). Another example is the breeds Salers, South Devon and Aberdeen moving under one roof.

National Center for Beef Excellence

The concept of the NCBE is to provide an organization to cover areas which breed associations can no longer afford independently. This currently includes seven breeds, and the services they provide range from total registry systems for small breeds like Romagnola and Red Devon to doing freelance video work for large breeds like Angus.

The most popular service they provide is in breed improvement and database management. The later—with the high costs of Ph.D. geneticists and computer programmers—make for a prohibitive expense for all but the largest associations. This is despite the critical need for the objective selection tools to keep breeds relevant in the commercial industry.

The mission of the NCBE reflects the diverse tools it provides the industry: “The NCBE serves the beef industry by facilitating innovation and connectivity through the different segments of the beef industry. We offer staffing, resources and software to beef breed associations, seedstock producers, commercial herds and beef industry start-ups to advance their ideas and increase their opportunity for success.”

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The center works with only a small fulltime staff, opting instead to lean on contract labor to provide the diverse services it offers. This makes it easy for the center to expand and contract various parts of the business it offers the industry. Contract and freelance staffing also help avoid the large expense of benefits needed to maintain a fulltime staff.

The center’s executive director, Tonya Amen, is optimistic about the center’s future role in the beef industry. She points out that it is organizations like the NCBE that will allow breeds to remain autonomous. However, the larger goal is to have more breeds located under one roof to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts and expenses.  

International Genetic Solutions

IGS is a company that calculates weekly genomically enhanced across-breed genetic predictions. The breeds currently involved include Simmental, Red Angus, Shorthorn, Gelbvieh, Limousin, Salers and South Devon, as well as most of their Canadian counterparts. The mission of IGS is to deliver “the best objectively described, user-friendly and science-based genetic predictions to enhance the profitability of beef cattle producers.”

These breeds combined have the largest across-breed dataset in the beef industry, as well as the technical support to maintain the service on the cutting edge. According to IGS, “This includes over 16 million animals and 340,000-plus new animals being added annually; IGS has the largest genetic evaluation system for beef cattle in the world—a system that provides commercial producers with the most powerful and user-friendly selection tools that have ever existed.”

In a larger sense, IGS gives the smaller associations the critical mass to compete with the genetic analysis conducted by Angus Genetics Inc. Most importantly, all the breeds’ genetic predictions are on the same base and scale, making the across-breed EPDs directly comparable when designing a crossbreeding system. It also provides the breeds with all the infrastructure they cannot afford including Ph.D. geneticists, profession database management, and computer programming.

The way the industry has developed, the IGS breeds are not in competition with each other. Instead, their competition is straight-breeding Angus vs. crossbreeding with the participating breeds. Therefore, the design and tools provided by IGS are critical for the participating breeds to maintain and grow commercial market share.

Salers’ model

A good example of a breed that has maintained a viable national headquarters despite a decline in registration is the American Salers Association. They have accomplished this by putting the South Devon and Aberdeen breeds under the same roof as Salers. They are also taking advantage of IGS by having them calculate the genetic predictions for Salers and South Devon.

Salers Executive Vice President Sherry Doubet is quick to point out the synergies and challenges of working with multiple breeds.

First, she is proud that these partnerships have allowed them to maintain a talented fulltime staff. This includes supplying the staff with competitive benefits package, which Doubet feels is one of the keys in retaining a talent.

According to Doubet, two major items allow for the system to be successful. One is that Aberdeen include EPDs, so their work tends to be spread year-round, while Salers and South Devon have a rush of data when cattle are weaned in the fall.

The other key is Australia’s Agriculture Business Research Institute (ABRI) software, which was designed to quickly and affordably accommodate multiple breeds. Without a program like ABRI, or the other boiler plate registration software marketed by Digital Beef, the computer programming to accommodate multiple breeds can be prohibitive.

An example is when Lowlines changed their name to Aberdeen. This required that every form and report had to be reprogrammed to accommodate the name change, and would have been prohibitive with less flexible registration software.

It is an exciting time in the seedstock industry with the infrastructure quickly coming into place to maintain breed functions for associations that have lost critical mass. It is safe to say that if breeds don’t take these opportunities to both improve efficiency, as well as define the breed’s roll in crossbreeding systems, they are on a path to no longer remain relevant in the commercial industry. — Dr. Bob Hough, WLJ correspondent

Dr. Bob Hough is the retired executive vice president of the Red Angus Association of America and a freelance writer.

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