Owners of commercial beef herds baffled by all those numbers in bull catalogs should meet Jared Decker.
Decker joined the University of Missouri Extension beef team as a geneticist, filling a long-vacant position. He's already attending producer and industry meetings - and bull sales.
His first priority, he says, will be to help cow herd owners improve breeding decisions. He'll teach how to use expected progeny differences. Those numbers ease decisions when buying bulls, semen or replacement heifers.
While those numbers have been around awhile, they are not widely understood by many producers. "EPDs help make good decisions," Decker says.
Even more important will be to understand EPD accuracies. Not all carry the same weight, he says.
There are "paper EPDs" based on pedigrees. More accurate EPDs are based on production of offspring. The more calves evaluated, the higher the accuracy. The latest are genomic-enhanced EPDs. Those include previous information plus analysis of the animal's DNA.
By pulling hair samples from a bull or heifer's tail, thousands of DNA markers can be examined.
That information, combined with data from pedigrees and progeny testing, give one EPD number to guide selection. Genomic information adds value by reducing chances of making a bad buying decision.
More accurate EPDs lead to lower risks and better opportunities to provide high-quality beef.
The amount of available genetic information has exploded.
Initially, EPDs covered predictions of a few traits, such as birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight and milk.
Now breed associations continually add EPDs for new traits, such as meat quality. The American Angus Association offers 16 EPDs.
With all of those numbers, confusion is reduced by making performance indices that combine many traits. Economics are added to form dollar-value indices as well.