Power House may pack genetic punch
SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. — A Virginia bull may have the potential to spread his Arnold Schwarzenegger-like genes among Hereford cattle.
If someone selects Power House, just short of age 2, to artificially inseminate a test herd, his calves would prove his quality by being a desirable weight and growing fast, his owner Bob Shaffer of Deer Track Farm said.
Because Shaffer is a member of the American Hereford Association, the association will track those traits throughout his life and those of his calves.
“We’re trying to make a better cow,” Shaffer, said. “The good Lord reaches in and grabs a handful of genetic traits from the sire and the dam.”
The Hereford cow was founded in Herefordshire, England as a result of demand for efficient cattle reproduction during the Industrial Revolution, according to the American Hereford Association.
The association, established in 1881 and based in Kansas City, Mo., maintains pedigree and performance information for more than 4,000 members and helps to provide tools to improve cattle within the breed.
The association ranks registered pedigree Hereford bulls according to what it calls EPDs, or expected progeny differential scores.
Power House’s EPDs in areas such as birth, weaning and yearling weight and scrotal circumference proved superior to the breed average for calves born in 2017, according to the association database that breeders can peruse in search of semen.
Shaffer produced Power House by combining his Hereford heifer, P606, with a two-time national champion bull from the Dakotas, he said. The only area where Power House scored lower than the 2017 calves was in the percentage of unassisted births to first-calf heifers.
“When you focus on a single trait, it can come at the expense of another trait,” he said. “If you make cattle bigger, the larger birth weights can cause calving problems. You want to balance the EPDs.”
Shaffer, a Washington, DC native and retired computer services company executive, set out to establish a 5-acre homestead and founded Deer Track Farm in 1979. He now operates the 141-acre farm as a purebred Hereford production operation.
The purebred livestock breeder and seedstock producer in addition to collecting bull semen said he injects heifers to super ovulate and then flushes them of embryos that he also sells for placing in recipient commercial cows.
The idea is to take the top 10 percent of the herd and use the animals with less genetic value as recipients so that over time the herd’s genetics are improved nationally and internationally, Shaffer said.
Pedigrees such as Shaffer’s are valued at a crude average of around $5,000, American Hereford Association Chief Operating Officer and Director of Breed Improvement Shane Bedwell said.
The most elite heifers earn money producing embryos for as many as 10 years before going to slaughter whereas commercial cows sell for around $1,800 and go to slaughter within 15 to 18 months, he said.
Bull semen sells for as much as $500 per straw, or enough to artificially inseminate one heifer, Bedwell said. One bull can take care of more than 30 cows, Shaffer said. Bull donors as a result don’t live as long as heifers in order to prevent inbreeding, Bedwell said.
Those who don’t use the semen or embryos immediately freeze them for recipients in the future, Shaffer said.
Scores change as the calves progress through life and conclude with rankings for carcass weight and amount of intramuscular fat for marbling, he said. Nutrition is also a big part of quality, Shaffer said.
The ultimate test is in USDA grading: Prime is the best, select is for restaurant and supermarket steaks and select primarily becomes burgers. Having better genetics for marbling greatly influences quality grade, Bedwell said.
“Everybody back through the chain is looking to see how well it did,” Shaffer said.
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