ASA’s Steer Profitability Competition bridges the gap from making herd genetic selection decisions to sending calves to slaughter. |
From ranch to rail, understanding the larger picture of how each section of the beef cattle industry interrelates can be difficult. The American Simmental Association (ASA) has the solution — a youth competition that provides a hands-on platform for juniors to integrate their knowledge into real-world scenarios, dubbed the Steer Profitability Competition (SPC).
Partnering with the University of Missouri (MU), the ASA provides junior members the opportunity to select an individual steer or pens of three steers to feed out at MU’s Beef Research and Teaching Farm in Columbia, MO. The juniors receive monthly newsletters, feedlot data, and participate in educational webinars.
“We are providing youth in the beef industry the opportunity to experience the challenges, difficulties, and opportunities associated with cattle feeding, which most beef producers, especially at the cow-calf level, don’t often receive,” says Chip Kemp, ASA Director of Commercial and Industry Operations.
Kemp acts as liaison between ASA and MU, and handles the steer relocation logistics. He says, “Each year, we see a serious level of animal husbandry that the university puts into the cattle. Also, the data and information coming from a research-based facility has been great for the juniors who participate.”
Calves are placed in small pens ranging from three to five head when they arrive at MU. They are vaccinated, provided an EID tag, and a DNA sample is taken. In addition to the pedigree and performance data on this animal, the animal is genotyped in ASA’s genetic evaluation.
“The overall quality of the cattle that have been sent has been excellent,” shares Kenneth Ladyman, MU Beef Farm Manager. Ladyman, a pivotal part of the success of the SPC, is responsible for handling and feeding the cattle.
“We give the calves a week-long acclimation period where MU staff work hard on keeping a close eye on the calves. They get a ration in front of them that is low key, good for their gut,” Kemp shares, “When we start to test the calves, they stay in the same pen that they started in from day one, with the same group of calves through the entire process.”
GrowSafe Systems® track each animal’s feed intake, monthly weights, and aids in billing out specific expenses per head.
“It is important for young people to see that not all cattle are the same. They grow at different rates and consume different amounts of feed at different times,” says Ladyman. Each month, participants receive 13 different metrics to determine how each calf is performing from a gain, health, and cost standpoint. He continues, “With the GrowSafe data, these youth have the opportunity to see how their calf performed every day on feed, and get monthly weights to see how they are gaining. With the individual billing they have the opportunity to see exactly how much it cost to feed out cattle, and how much feed it actually takes to finish one.”
In addition to feeding out steers, juniors participate in educational webinars and monthly feedback assignments. Each year speakers vary from ASA staff, to extension or university personnel, to people working in cattle feeding. “The folks who speak in our webinars bring a wealth of knowledge on a whole range of topics that would be difficult for a junior to receive on a regular basis otherwise,” says Kemp.
Industry-leading speakers address a wide range of topics, including learning how individual feed intake of their steers is measured using GrowSafe technology, an overview of animal breeding and genetic selection, and discussing the harvest process and carcass grading.
For example, in 2019, Dustin Puhrmann, Beef Production Specialist with Cooperative Farmers Elevator in Iowa, gave a presentation on identifying, managing, and marketing feedlot cattle. The year before that, Dr. Brandi Karisch, Mississippi State University, presented on feeder calf health.
Juniors submit feedback assignments for each webinar, and the participant in each age division with the highest total score on assignments wins a prize. This year, participants tried new assignments developed by the ASA staff, such as calculating the initial value of their steers based on the USDA feeder calf prices for the week their steer was delivered to the feedlot and creating their own selection index by picking the three most important traits for their operation and three more traits that would matter in their area.
“I was extremely impressed with the grasp the SPC kids have on the impact of their local environment on cattle production. I read about fescue tolerance from Missourians, brisket disease resistance from Coloradans, and how calving ease was important because it was pretty hard to skip class to go check heifers,” says ASA DNA Research Management and Youth Development Director Dr. Rachel Endecott.
Endecott is heavily involved with planning and grading all webinars and assignments, “I was simply blown away by the creativity and cleverness these juniors put into their assignments.”
At the end of the contest, each animal’s overall profitability is determined by subtracting the accrued costs by the final valuation.“This program was built to mimic what a real-world cattle feeder goes through,” says Kemp, “You either made money or you didn’t. Frankly, that is what your banker wants to know, too.”
The contest takes into consideration the initial valuation, total costs accrued from delivery through harvest, final valuation based on total carcass price (base carcass price, and the premiums and discounts associated with carcass information). AJSA members have an opportunity to earn points toward the overall award at the AJSA National Classic if their SPC steer(s) are over 50% Simmental and place well in the contest. Depending on the number of SPC steers entered, the top ten or twenty individual steers receive awards at the AJSA National Classic awards banquet. The top five pens-of-three steers and the top monthly feedback in each age division also receive awards.
Ladyman says, “The first year we had ADG for the whole feeding period around 4.6 pounds per day. The second-year they were around 4.2 pounds per day with some very poor feeding conditions in January and February — that well exceeds the national average of around 3.5 pounds per day. ”
Juniors who participate in SPC experience the nuances that the next owner of the calves go through first-hand, developing a more thorough understanding of how genetic value and good herd health impact calves in the feedlot, ending with the animal hanging on the rail. Kemp concludes, “If we can help junior members become more engaged in this piece of the beef industry, not only do they learn more about cattle that excel in the feedlot, they are better positioned with knowledge, tools, and programs that fit their particular business — to potentially bolster their business and make them more profitable in the future.”