Purchasing genetics is a tremendous investment for cattle producers. Not only the direct monetary investing but also the years and generations required to get back on track from making an uninformed decision. When buying new genetics, there are many important aspects to consider.
First and foremost define your goals. What kind of cattle do you want to produce next year, in five years, and long term? Develop a plan to accomplish your goals BEFORE seeking potential genetics. Sampling genetics from several producers is one way to determine which genetic lines work best for your environment and overall program success. Please note: a continuation of buffet style purchasing is essentially an accumulation of genetic variation and not a long term plan.
Get to know the breeder(s) that you are considering….or consult with someone that does this professionally. If possible, on farm visits are the best way to see firsthand their cattle, management and selection strategies. One imperative question to ask is about their culling policies (especially as it pertains to fertility). Also inquire about herd vaccination protocol and warranty or breeding guarantee that comes with the animals/genetics. As well, get an idea of their services after the sell and marketing assistance. This might be simply supplying pictures of lineage for seedstock marketing or premium buy back programs for terminal cattle.
For bull buyers, it is estimated as high as 90% of the genetic improvement (or change) across all herds in America is due to sire selection. However, maternal lineage and the environment he was developed in are as important as the actual bull. In terms of female selection, age at first calving and maternal performance expectations are a must. A rule of thumb is make sure seedstock producers don’t pamper their cattle before going to work for you.
Consignment sales are a good way to view select offerings from several breeders at one time. However, do yourself a favor and request sale information in advance so you can do homework before the sale. Gather information about the breeders, their reputation, and the genetics and phenotype (actual or future in the case of semen or embryos) of your favorites. It’s virtually impossible to physically see all sale lots or know every producer consigning. Call the breeders of the lots you prefer and visit about their operations. Ask other colleagues you trust about the breeder and their genetics. Do they stand behind their product or are there skeletons in the closet? Remember, when you buy based only on a pedigree and picture you stake the future of your herd’s quality, performance and goals at risk.
Regarding embryo and semen purchases, find out who collected the genetics and the methods they used. Collection firms have certain quality control policies and freezing techniques you need to be aware of. Also find out where the genetics are stored and amount of handling since initial frozen storage (i.e., number of personal semen tanks the germplasm have bounced around in). Conception rates can be affected by many factors including conventional embryo flushing vs. in-vitro fertilization, frozen thaw vs. fresh transfer, sexed vs. conventional semen, and many more. An embryo buyer should be aware of the collection type and kind to provide later during transfer preparation. In the past year I have worked with four very distinguished embryologists. All four do an outstanding job but each has their own individual methods and specifics.
One thing is certain; to realize consistent progress towards accomplishing goals a breeder must develop a well thought out plan. Getting to know the person selling you genetics and their program is a priceless task that will impact your herd tremendously.