Now Agricultural Research Service scientists and their cooperators have helped producers set up a program that evaluates and ranks animals based on multiple traits. This evaluation selects animals that have the potential to produce the most profitable offspring, according to ARS geneticist Michael MacNeil of the agency's Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory in Miles City, Mont., and industry collaborator William Herring.

In the past, producers have had to subjectively trade off differences among traits to get the type of cattle they wanted. For example, they were asked whether growth rate was more important than marbling, or whether yield grade was more important than weaning weight.

But MacNeil has designed software that estimates the relative economic value of each trait in a typical production system. This information helps estimate an animal's overall genetic profit potential.

Since 1996, Herring has worked with the Angus Sire Alliance and Circle A Angus Ranches in Missouri to rank sires nominated by Angus breeders throughout the United States by their genetic profit potential, using relative economic values that he and MacNeil calculated.

MacNeil and Herring have found that among the 352 sires tested on three Circle A ranch locations in Missouri, there exists a range in profitability of $41.65. This means that if the highest- and lowest-ranking bulls were used in a production system similar to the one described in the economic simulation, a difference in profitability of more than $40 per progeny would be expected.

Based on the results of this research, MacNeil believes that wide differences exist in the profit potential of cattle.

Producers should be encouraged to use a more comprehensive and objective approach than single-trait selection in choosing how to breed their animals.

Bulls with a desirable balance of traits may, in the end, be much more profitable than those that excel in just one or two traits.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.