Most think of barns, homes and grain bins when the word “construction” is used. I would argue, however, that the same term, when broken down to its basic definition, can be used in regards to our cattle herds. Merriam Webster defines construction as “the process or art of construction something.” To construct is defined as “to make or form by combining or arranging parts or elements.” Further definition of the word “build” is “to develop according to a systematic plan, by a definite process, or on a particular base or foundation.”
One often hears the term “building the herd” used when ranchers are discussing buying and selling cattle. For some, that means they are increasing herd size. For others, though, it means more than just physical numbers. They are looking to develop the herd, improve their genetic pool, achieve higher gains, better their efficiencies and decrease their veterinary emergencies.
To construct is to form by combination. We cattlemen and cattlewomen “construct” our herds through genetics. We combine the better qualities of a cow with those of a bull in the hopes of achieving a better product, in the form of a calf, than we previously had. To that end, we need to have a strong foundation. Just as a building is only as strong as its foundation, the same principle applies to our herds. This means that we have a select few that we use to build our herd from. These are the cows that stand out year after year, the ones we tend to keep back heifers from. Not every cow in our herd has to be top quality, but there should be some that you look to in order to increase the herd quality.
With today’s technological advances, we are no longer constrained to purchasing a herd bull. While by all means it just makes common sense to keep a “clean up” bull around, through artificial insemination and even embryo transfer techniques, we can access some of the industry’s best genetics for a fraction of the price of purchasing the actual animals themselves. To build is to have a system, a process to reach an end goal. If we know what that goal is – calving ease, docility, frame size, high weaning weight – these technologies can help us in achieving those goals faster and more efficiently than perhaps our predecessors were able to.
Building our herds is not a fast process, though. It is a long term investment, one that does not have an immediate return, but one that can have a high rate of return if we are willing and able to wait out the process. The cattle industry has at its fingertips the means to create, to our own minds, the perfect cow or bull. Notice the term “art” is used in the definition for construction. We use genetics as our paintbrush and our operations as our palette in our quest to build the perfect animal.
In today’s cattle environment, the more value we can add to our livestock, the higher potential value we can receive back at the sale barn. Even at today’s prices, it may not make financial sense to purchase several head of genetically superior cattle. But if we start with what we have, start small, in time, with the proper management, our herds will naturally arrive at our end goals.