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Tool for Calculating Cattle's Breeding Success is Handy...Until You Misread the Data

EPD ranks an animal according to how it performs compared to the rest of its breed.
Bull Soundness Exams in the Ozarks
(Photo credit: MU Extension via flickr)

Eldon Cole knows more about cattle than most people know there is to know about cattle. But recently, his expertise had him playing the role of a detective. 

A beef cow producer called Cole to complain that he had lost seven out of nine calves in the birthing process. (And for those city slickers out there, that’s high. Very high).

Cole asked the farmer about the hay the heifers were eating. He asked about the heifer’s body. Everything sounded normal. Then, he asked for the registration number of the bull responsible for the calves.  He saw that the bull’s EPD was in the 85 to 90 percentile rank for his breed.  A definite red flag.

So, what’s the EPD, you ask?

“Expected Progeny Difference,” said Cole, who works as a livestock expert at the University of Missouri Extension in Lawrence County.

“That means, what do we expect that animal’s offspring, or his progeny, in other words, to perform like?”

Now, you’d think, as did the beef farmer, that the higher an EPD rank, the better its progeny.   Not so, says Cole.  It’s actually the opposite.

“You really want that percentile rank to be down – 20, 15, or 10, something like that – just 180 degree opposite of what he was envisioning,” Cole said.

The EPD is how an animal ranks compared to all other animals in that breed. Cole says 50 is average for the breed.

Since health is factored into that ranking, it can have a profound effect on how an animal reproduces.

According to the MU Extension, progressive cattle breeders are adopting the EPD and percentile rank system as they teach farmers about genetic differences.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.