CUBA, Mo. – Beef herd owners profit from fewer calf death losses, steers grading USDA prime and cows staying in the herd longer. Improved herd performance comes from adding genetics to management.

That theme was repeated at three ReproGene Conferences held by University of Missouri Extension across southern Missouri in March. The final meeting was at Cuba, Mo., Monday, March 26.

Adding genomics, the science of DNA, to beef breeding is here and working in Missouri herds.

“That ship has already sailed. This isn’t something new,” said Jared Decker, MU Extension geneticist. “It’s working in herds already. Now’s time to get on board.”

A genomic test of a few drops of blood from a calf’s ear can reveal a DNA map of lifetime production for a heifer. That predicts production.

Even with known genetic potential, a replacement heifer must be managed for proper development. That includes chores from feeding to breeding.

In the meetings, which will be repeated, reproduction management was told by Dave Patterson, MU reproduction specialist. Decker followed with research on genetic progress.

Jordan Thomas, recent MU Ph.D. graduate, followed with his research on split-time artificial insemination (AI) and use of sex-sorted semen.

Wrap-ups came from panelists from genetic suppliers and farmers who provide and use better breeding tools to produce quality beef.

Patterson’s reports are based on his 20 years of research and development with the MU Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program. That plan has added millions of dollars of income to SMS owners.

Big benefits are more live calves and fewer deaths of heifers by using calving-ease genetics. A big change is switching from AI based on weeks of watching to find females in heat. Now, with fixed-time AI, all heifers are bred in one day. Calves that are born in about 14 days instead of months are more uniform. Buyers like that.

“With short calving times, producers tell us they do a better job of watching their heifers,” Patterson said. Fixed-time AI allows all to be from one top sire in the breed, using AI semen. AI offspring have better genetics.

Another benefit: Heifers that conceive and calve early in the breeding season stay in the herd longer.

Later in a panel discussion, Chip Kemp, a former MU faculty member, said, “Dave’s program shows cows staying in the herd longer are where profits are made.”

In the genomic section, Decker said a DNA test made soon after birth can be used for the lifetime of a cow. Bulls can be matched to make up for any shortcomings in the cows. The result is better calves.

A new finding shows that steers do not need to be DNA tested to reveal their superior genetics. Tests on heifer mates tell the steers’ potential.

Major progress simplifies use of genetic testing. Meanwhile, prices drop. What cost $50 a test last year can be had for $15 this year. That trend continues.

A specific test is needed for each breed or crossbreed. “Make sure to use the correct test,” Decker said.

Farmer Kenny Graham, Farmington, said the SMS heifer program allowed him to expand his cow herd. Genetics gave new profit potential.

Frank Barnitz, Lake Spring, an earlier user of AI, told how better breeding allowed him to add new enterprises to the family farm.

Farmers attending heard many more profit ideas.

Beef herd owners can find help on reproduction protocols and genetics from their regional MU Extension livestock specialist.