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  • Esther Tarpoff, American Angus Association

Bred females or open females? Where is the value in the data?

Every breeder, no matter the size of your herd, has the opportunity to contribute breeding records.

On any operation, a female’s number one job is to produce a live calf each year. On top of that, she is expected to do it on a regular calving interval, and there's hope she produces an above average calf. If she doesn’t produce a live calf or comes up open, she likely has written herself a ticket to move on down the road. However, unless the female breeds as a heifer, she doesn’t have the opportunity to make it in the cow herd long term.

For many with spring calving females, you are right in the heat of breeding season, whether that be through artificial insemination (AI) or natural coverage with herd bulls. For those with fall calving females, you likely have already pregnancy checked your herd and know which ones are going to calve this fall and made decisions with the females that bred late or were open.

These breeding (and pregnancy detection) records have value at the American Angus Association for your animals in the weekly National Cattle Evaluation (NCE). If you are an Angus member breeding females, specifically heifers, you have breeding records to contribute. Heifer breeding records are used in the heifer pregnancy (HP) expected progeny difference (EPD).

Heifer pregnancy evaluation

HP was added to the weekly NCE in 2011. As the name indicates, this is a trait focused on heifers and utilizes breeding records from heifers. Over the last decade, there have been more than 100,000 heifer breeding records added to the NCE. Figure 1 shows number of records included in the evaluation at the time of the spring Sire Evaluation Report since 2013. In the most recent Sire Evaluation Report, there were more than 145,000 heifer breeding records included.

In data from the Association, HP has a genetic heritability of 0.15. While HP has a lower heritability, which means it may take longer to see changes in the trait compared with those that are highly heritable, genetic progress will happen over time with selection pressure. As with any trait that has a lower heritability, more information is required to see an increase in accuracy. For HP, this information comes from breeding records either on the individual and progeny.

Figure 1. Number of heifer breeding records in national cattle evaluation at time of spring Sire Evaluation Report from 2013 to 2023.

The data

If you breed Angus females, you have breeding records. That means you have opportunity to have your herd represented in the phenotypes for heifer pregnancy. What is important with breeding records, like any other trait, is to ensure you are submitting the entire group of females that are exposed, not only the ones that breed or only the ones that are open. If heifers are culled because they are open, recording that piece of information is critical for a complete group record.

Submitting breeding records, while it might seem tedious, can be very simple. All the information that is required for breeding records is a breeding season (spring, fall or single season), the year they were bred, synchronization status and what bulls they were bred to. This would include first, second, etc. round of AI, as well as any bull pasture exposure for the females.

While only breeding records for heifers are used in the calculation of HP, you can also submit breeding records on cows. When you submit breeding records to the Association, you can download a calving calendar report that will list when females were bred, who they were bred to and, if pregnancy check records are provided, the report will also include the projected calving date for the dam.

Tips for submitting breeding records

There are a few short cuts available when submitting breeding records. Breeding records can be submitted however you submit other Angus Herd Inventory Reporting (AHIR®) data (AIMS, Login, spreadsheet or paper).

If you are submitting through AAA Login and have multiple females with the same breeding information (dates, bull exposure, etc.), you can select all those females at one time on the Yearling Heifer Breeding Data screen, enter the information, and it will be applied to all the selected females at once.

If females were AI bred to different bulls but all pastured exposed to the same bulls, you can check the box to retain pasture breeding information for the next animal, so you do not have to reenter the natural coverage information for the next animal.

If you are also entering pregnancy check information at the same time as breeding records, you can dispose of open females on this screen. Submitting information on the entire group that was exposed is what makes breeding records beneficial for the evaluation, including those females that bred successfully and those that did not.

If breeding records are provided but no pregnancy check information is entered, those records will not enter the evaluation right away. Heifers that are not old enough to have had the opportunity to calve have their records excluded from the evaluation. Once heifers are old enough to have calved and have breeding records reported, if no calf is reported, it is assumed to be an unsuccessful breeding event.

Ensuring complete group information is reported allows selection tools, like heifer pregnancy, to work to their maximum potential. Even with something as simple as breeding records, making sure all females in the group are accounted for makes a difference. If you want to make sure you are reporting complete production records for the females in your herd, look into participating in the Inventory Reporting program and reaching the MaternalPlus® designation. This program will help you better manage the data for your herd and not leave any females behind.

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