How to use EBVs for Selection

How to use EBVs for Selection

By Quentin de Bruyn

When selecting animals to buy or retain in your herd its physical appraisal or how it “looks” will always be important. Stockmanship, or the art of being able to judge how an animal will breed on its “looks” is an art that takes years of experience, working with cattle, attending breeders courses and learning from experienced stockmen. Nothing can replace this skill. 

However, good stockmen also know that the best “looking” cow is often the poorest producer – these cows either don’t have enough milk to raise a decent calf or they are not good mothers and lose their calves through neglect. “Looks” are also not a reliable indicator of other important traits such as milk, how easily she calves or her ability to raise a healthy calf. The best mothers give everything to their calves, which can leave them looking in poor condition. Therefore, relying on “looks” alone can be problematic. 

Using Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) from performance tested herds is a critical tool to identify animals that not only look good, but are also good breeders. However, EBVs are only as good as the numbers behind them. They are only useful if they are accurate and they are only accurate if proper performance testing and data collection is done on an ongoing basis across the whole herd. It is very important to understand that inaccurate EBVs could be more misleading than helpful and should not be relied upon to make decisions. 

The following are some broad principles to use EBVs correctly for selection: 

  • EBVs tend to work against each other i.e. high scores in some areas will lead to low scores in others. For example, a cow with a high calving ease index (small calves) will tend to have a lower growth index. Similarly, a high “milk” index often contributes to a lower “fertility”, because cows that give everything to their calf can lose too much condition and struggle to fall pregnant again. The aim is therefore not to “maximise” EBVs but to be aware of the interplay between them and to understand what they say about the animals production potential. 
  • To use EBVs most successfully you need to have a very clear idea of your own breeding objectives and the needs of your particular farming environment. When you know what you want to achieve, accurate EBVs can help you select animals that fit into your environment and help you achieve your breeding objectives by addressing short-comings in your herd like growth or milk. 
  • Ideally, one should strive for balance across performance indicators rather than chasing outliers. 

Interpreting EBVs

Eve VST 14-59

In an auction catalogue, the Breeding Values for each animal are shown in a table at the bottom of each animals Lot card. (See example of Eve VST 14-59). There are four values in each Breeding Value column. The first value given, labelled “BV” on the left is the actual breeding value of that specific trait, the second line “Acc” indicates the accuracy in %,  while the third line expresses the actual breeding value as an INDEX against the breed average. The fourth line is a compilation of the relevant breeding value indexes into a single broader breeding value, such as fertility being based on both AFC and ICP. 

The EBV accuracy will give you an indication of the reliability of the figures. In general, anything less than 50% tells you that the actual recorded data underlying the figures is weak and unreliable. The more data that is collected through performance testing on an ongoing basis over generations within family lines the more value the EBVs have as a selection tool.

Breeding Values and the Breeding Value Indexes

  1. Calving Ease (CE)– The “Calving Ease” Index is compiled from the “Birth direct” and a “Birth Maternal” breeding value. An index of above 100 indicates that the animal will deliver below average size calves and therefore should reduce the chance of calving difficulties due to big calves. 
  2. Growth – The “Growth” Index is compiled from weaning weights and the 12 to 18 month growth performance as well as other data collected in the phase-C and phase-D tests. An index of above 100 indicates better growth than the breed average. This is particularly important for weaner production and an indication of their performance in a feedlot environment. 
  3. Milk – The “Milk” Index is made up of information from pre-weaning weights and weaning weights. An index of above 100 here indicates above breed average milk production which leads to higher calf survival rates and heavier weaners.
  4. Fertility – The “Fertility” Index is made up of Age at First Calving (AFC) and Inter Calf Period (ICP) and I think longevity also plays a role here. An animal with a fertility index of above 100 will give birth for the first time sooner and more frequently thereafter and for longer than the breed average in these traits.
  5. Maintenance – The “Maintenance” Index is based on the size and weight of an animal. The bigger the animal the higher the Direct Breeding Value (2nd to last line) will be, but the poorer the Maintenance Index will be. This is because bigger animals require more food and more hectares. A index of above 100 in maintenance indicates a smaller than breed average animal and will allow higher stocking rates.
  6. Cow Value – The “Cow Value” index is a tool rather than an EBV in itself. The Boran technical committee tries to determine what the ideal Boran animal should look like and how it should breed. This is expressed by giving a weight/importance to each individual breeding value. In the Boran breed the following weights have been determined – calving ease (9%), growth (25%), milk (18%), maintenance (12%) and fertility (36%). The “Cow Value” is a weighted composite of an animal’s individual EBVs and is meant to indicate how the animal is expected to perform against what the breed deems to be the perfect animal. The higher the Index the better the animal is expected to perform against the ideal breed standard.
  7. n my opinion, the individual EBVs are more useful than the “Cow Value” for selecting animals which help to fix a short-coming in your herd or which would be more suited to your own specific environment. Personally, I tend to discount calving ease because I think we are fortunate to have a breed with low birth weights and little calving issues. I also prefer to choose animals that are slightly above breed average in size because the Boran breed is a smaller breed and most South African farmers are weaner producers and want bigger weaners with good growth to get better per kg prices from the feedlots.
  8. Bull Value – The “Bull Value” index is generated from measurements in Phase-D and Phase-C performance tests of the testicles circumference of peer groups. An index above 100 will indicate that the animal will have above breed average testes in the male offspring. Testicle circumference is directly linked to fertility in cows and the quality and quantity of semen produced by bulls, which affects their ability to get many cows pregnant in the shortest time possible.

2021 Vastrap Auction

Unique offering of 7-year old cows sets Vastrap apart

Unique offering of 7-year old cows sets Vastrap apart

The Vastrap Auction is distinguished by the fact that we offer for sale every single one of our own bred pregnant 7-year old cows. Each year these cows represent some of the best animals in the entire Vastrap herd and sometimes, the best in the country. This offers the buyer complete transparency and the opportunity to acquire an established herd matriarch in the prime of her productive life. We are excited to present the 2013 year group at the 2020 Vastrap Auction on Friday 21 August 2020.

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Over the past 8 years the Boran Society has consistently recognised Vastrap Boran as one of the best managed and best performing large herds in South Africa. This is significant, because it means that the value of our 7-year old cows is underpinned not only by their looks and genetics, but also by accurate performance values and progeny on the ground to showcase their quality.

Other breeders have often questioned how the Vastrap herd can survive the loss of the 7-year old group every year? The rationale is as follows. Because of our accurate measurement of performance, we are able to identify our best animals at an early age. These animals will be flushed once to ensure that we have more progeny on the ground by the time they are sold. Our cows have their first calf at 33-35 months so we get natural calves from them in years 3, 4, 5 and 6. Our philosophy is that a cow should breed progeny that are good enough to replace her within 4 years.

All of this underpins the value proposition for the buyer. The cows sold at the Vastrap Auction are offered under the auspices so they have been screened for conformation and are heavily pregnant or with calf. Within 3 and a bit years the buyer should have 4 calves on the ground from a top cow from one of the best herds in the country. All in all, the buyer reaps the  benefit of years of meticulous record keeping, research and top Vastrap genetics.

We are proud to be able to offer this unique opportunity to our clients. It has been heart-warming to see how many of the 7-year olds we have sold over the past 8 years have made their mark as herd matriarchs at their new homes. Here are some of the beauties that have gone under the hammer at past auctions.

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Boran x Angus Cross Yields Results!

Boran x Angus Cross Yields Results!

Author: Quentin de Bruyn

The results of the Beef Genomics Program (BGP) which showed that the Boran breed is genetically far removed from the other breeds in South Africa is strong evidence to support the use Boran bulls to maximise beef production in commercial cross-bred cattle. The impressive results Vastrap Boran has achieved using the Boran in its commercial cross-breeding herd (with Angus) further demonstrates the strong hybrid vigour pure bred Boran bring to the table.

Boran genetics

In 2019, the Vastrap commercial F1 Boran/Angus herd which were bred back to Angus stud bulls recorded the best ever cow:calf wean ratios on the farm. The group yielded an average cow:calf wean ratio of 53% for females (with every single female calf exceeding 48%) and 57% for the male calves, with only one calf below the 48% level.

Cross-breeding Strategy

The advantages of cross-breeding are well documented and can have a big impact on your net return. Heterosis (hybrid vigor) and using breeds that are complementary (have different strength) can have many advantages. Data released by the USDA demonstrates the benefits of cross-breeding across a range of indicators: 6% higher calving; 4% higher calf survival, 8% increase in efficiency; 38% increase in longevity; and 23% increase in lifetime productivity (USDA Cattle Inventory Report, January 2012).

The Boran and the Angus breeds complement each other very well. The Boran has all the strengths we have come to know and love such as hardiness, ability to fatten off the veld, ability to maintain body condition in harsh environments, resistance to diseases, longevity and higher stocking levels, while the Angus is well known for its meat quality, weaning weight, growth rate and is highly sought after by feedlots.

At Vastrap we follow a simple ongoing two-way cross strategy. In the first stage a Boran bull is put on Angus cows. The F1 heifers (50/50) from this combination are put back to Angus bulls to produce a (75/25) Angus/Boran offspring. The retained females from this combination are bred back to Boran bulls, which in turn yields (62.5/37.5) Boran/Angus to be bred back to Angus bulls and so forth.

The importance of measurement

Measurement is critical to the improvement of any cattle herd as it helps to identify the best and worst animals each year. Vastrap monitors and measures its commercial herds in the same way as its stud herds. Animals are kept in same-age groups, all cattle are tagged, birth records are kept, all calves and cows are weighed at weaning. This enables one to make informed decisions about which cattle to cull and even more importantly, which heifers to keep as replacement stock based on their own wean indexes, their wean weight as a percentage of their mother’s weight and the mother’s ICP and historical weaning indexes.

Impressive weaning results

The table below shows the average wean ratios for male and female calves from the Vastrap F1 Boran/Angus cows cross bred back to Angus bulls in 2019. These are the best ever wean results in any Vastrap herd in 20 years of record keeping!

Historically, in the extensive farming conditions at Vastrap, females weaning at more than 45% of the mother’s body weight and males at more than 48% have been considered excellent. Cows that produce these results are marked as A-grade for that breeding season. This group of Boran/Angus cross-bred animals far outperformed this benchmark with an average cow:calf ratio of 53% for females (with every single female calf exceeding 48%!) and 57% for the male calves with only one calf below the 48% level.

Weaning Averages: F1 (50/50) cow with Angus/Boran calf (75/25)
Female Male
Weaning Age 216.5 days 211.9 days
Live Weight 252.5kg 279.1kg
Adjusted weight (210 days) 246.8kg 278.1kg
Cow:Calf ratio 53% 57%

F1 COWS – WEANING DATA

F1 COWS - WEANING DATA

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2018 Vastrap Auction: Results

We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who travelled from near and far to support the 2018 Vastrap Auction. Congratulations to all the buyers! We had the biggest turnout ever this year with visitors from all over South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. We were blessed with a beautiful day and everyone seemed to enjoy the personal home-style atmosphere we aim to create. The dinner on the evening before the auction is always a highlight for us as it provides an opportunity to host people in our home and socialise in a relaxed manner before the craziness of auction day.

Summary of Auction Stats:

Average price of Bulls: R44’000 (highest price R100’000)

Average price of Females: R49’500 (highest price R140’000) – 100% of females offered were sold.

Boran cattle are our passion and the Boran community have enriched our lives in ways we never thought possible. Thank you for your support and we look forward to doing it all again next year!

VST 15-74

VST 15-74 sold for R100’000 to Sfiso Shezi

VST 15-70

VST 15-70 sold for R85’000 to Theron Familie Trust

VST 15-124

VST 15-124 sold for R65’000 to Gert Oosthuisen

Latika - PRB16 21 copy

Latika PRB 16-21 sold for R140’000 to Quentin de Bruyn (Vastrap Boran)

Britney - PRB 16 12 copy

Britney PRB sold for R100’000 to Stephen Johnson (Frontier Boran)

VST 15-73

Jackie VST 15-73 sold for R90’000 to Conrad Hollenbach

VST 15-136

Jackie VST 15-136 sold for R80’000 to Sfiso Shezi

VST 15-59

Annabelle VST 15-59 sold for R75’000 to Keith Peinke (Peinke Ranch)

2017 Vastrap Auction: Farewell Mollshoop

2017 Vastrap Auction: Farewell Mollshoop

Thank you to everyone who supported the 2017 Vastrap Auction on Friday, 18 August. In many ways it was an emotional day for us as we bid farewell to the last remaining Mollshoop Boran cows that were the founding matriarchs of the Vastrap herd. Our Boran journey started with these cows and we have them to thank for the consistent quality and character of the Vastrap herd today. We bid farewell to the Mollshoop Jackies, Roses, Odettes, Hopes, Savannas et al and happily start afresh with their Vastrap (VST) offspring still carrying their names. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome as the results on the day surpassed our expectations!

This was our 5th auction and without a doubt the most smoothly run, thanks to the great service we received from the whole team at OVK/CMW led by Johan Scholtz and Paul van Biljon. From the marketing, the setting up, the auction logistics through to the loading and administration, we continuously felt a sense of comfort that everything was being run efficiently and professionally. We would like to extend a huge thank you to all the OVK/CMW staff. We can wholeheartedly recommend OVK/CMW service to anyone thinking of holding a livestock auction. Thank you also to Johan van der Nest for bringing his A-game and lifting the auction with his usual unique style!

The organisation of an auction takes a huge physical and emotional toll, but it is all worth it when you see what an effort people make to get here. We were happy to see many repeat customers, but also lots of new faces, not only from the stud industry.

We are proud to be associated with all our guest sellers (Peinke Ranch, Pratos Borane and Heeltevrede Stoetery) who offered exceptional quality animals that did very well on the day. Huge congratulations to Peinke Ranch for having the highest price cow and bull on the day – Shakira PRB 14-21 (R205’000) and Leika PRB 14-18 (R140’000).

2017 Vastrap Auction Results
  Average Price Highest Price
All Bulls (17) R43 000 R140 000
Cows (25) R65 000 R205 000
Heifers (6) R34 000 R55 000

The average price of commercial pregnant cows was about R16’000.

Shakira PRB-14-21 sold for R205’000 to Damina Roberts.

Naledi MHB 11-52 sold for R140’000 to Rory Kockott KKT Boran.

Xany MHB 11-33 sold for R90’000 to Dr Ben Spies.

Rose MHB 06-03 sold for R85’000 to Peinke Ranch.

Jackie MHB 07-29 sold for R80’000 to Frontier Borans.

PRB 14-18 sold for R140’000 to Rohan & Dylan Meintjies Sterkfontein Borane.

Kingston VST 12-28 sold for R60’000 to Ockert Werner Model Borane.

VST 14-34 sold for R50’000 to Ockert Werner Model Borane.

PT 14-21 sold for R55’000 to Dr Ben Spies.

Introducing our new stud sire, Samurai SS 11-31!

Introducing our new stud sire, Samurai SS 11-31!

Vastrap Boran is excited to introduce one of our new stud sires, Samurai SS 11-31 (Dianna SS 06-03 x Kobra SS 08-61). His mother, Dianna SS 06-03 (HVT 97-15 x HVT 95-03) caught Quentin’s eye very early in his stud breeding career when he visited Corn van der Watt in January 2012. She is an extraordinary cow – beautiful with a stunning femine wedge, good length and width and fantastic breeding ability. Kobra also impressed. On that visit Quentin saw three different groups of multi-sired embryo calves at Sandsonia, and in his opinion, Kobra’s progeny were leagues ahead of the other bulls used on the same dams.

We would like to thank Corn and Johan for offering such a top specimen for sale. In our opinion, Samurai impresses both phenotypically and genetically. We would also like to thank Stephen Johnson with whom we consulted extensively before making this purchase.

Samurai SS 11-31

Samurai SS 11-31 (Dianna SS 06-03 x Kobra SS 08-61).

One of the main reasons that Quentin remembers Dianna so well is that her breeding goes back to 1603 on the sire side and ADC 3746 (Mutara) on the dam side, which is so similar to one of our best cow bloodlines, namely Savanna. The Savanna granddam, Savanna TLM 00-03 is also a HVT 95-03 (1603) daughter out of B 96-009 (ADC 8408). Both Savanna and her daughters produced some of the best offspring every year. Unfortunately, the Savanna bloodline does not flush very well, so we have not been able to multiply this bloodline effectively. With only natural mating, it is also extremely difficult to produce a stud sire that we can re-use in the Vastrap herd since many of the females will be related to a Savanna son bred out of one of our own stud bulls. With his breeding, Samurai is therefore the perfect addition to our herd.

Below are some photos showing the consistent quality of the Savanna offspring.

Savanna TLM 00-03 (Savanna B96-09( ADC 8408) x HVT 95-03 (1603))

Savanna TLM 00-03 (Savanna B96-09( ADC 8408) x HVT 95-03 (1603))

Savanna MHB 07-16 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Khan MHB 04-27) - The second highest priced cow at the 2014 Vastrap Auction (R130'000)

Savanna MHB 07-16 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Khan MHB 04-27) – The second highest priced cow at the 2014 Vastrap Auction (R130’000)

Savanna MHB 09-13.(Savanna TLM 00-03 x Voorslag TLM 02-03) - On offer at the 2016 Vastrap Auction!

Savanna MHB 09-13.(Savanna TLM 00-03 x Voorslag TLM 02-03) – On offer at the 2016 Vastrap Auction!

Savanna VST 15-91 (Savanna MHB 09-13 x Griffen MHB 06-24)

Savanna VST 15-91 (Savanna MHB 09-13 x Griffen MHB 06-24)

Savanna MHB 11-57 (Savanna MHB 07-16 X Rustin MHB 06-30).

Savanna MHB 11-57 (Savanna MHB 07-16 X Rustin MHB 06-30).

Savanna VST 15-98 (Savanna MHB 11-57 x Zed DLV 10-17).

Savanna VST 15-98 (Savanna MHB 11-57 x Zed DLV 10-17).

Savanna VST 12-58 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 12-58 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 15-80 (Savanna VST 12-58 x Zed DLV 10-17).

Savanna VST 15-80 (Savanna VST 12-58 x Zed DLV 10-17).

Savanna VST 12-60 (Savanna MHB 09-13 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 12-60 (Savanna MHB 09-13 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 15-54 (Savanna VST 12-60 x Zed DLV 10-17)

Savanna VST 15-54 (Savanna VST 12-60 x Zed DLV 10-17)

Savanna VST 13-124 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 13-124 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 13-126 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 13-126 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30)

Savanna VST 13-129 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30) - highest priced heifer at the 2016 Showcase Auction (R47'000).

Savanna VST 13-129 (Savanna TLM 00-03 x Rustin MHB 06-30) – highest priced heifer at the 2016 Showcase Auction (R47’000).

3rd Vastrap Auction done and dusted!

3rd Vastrap Auction done and dusted!

We enjoyed a fantastic day at the 3rd Vastrap Boran Auction on Friday, 14 August. So much time and effort goes into planning the auction and there is always a lot of stress about how things are going to turn out. It is such a blessing when we wake up to a beautiful, windless blue-sky day and know that there’s nothing more to do but enjoy it. As much as we love our cattle, the people involved with the Boran are very special too and we really enjoy the interaction we have with everyone around the auction. It is wonderful to see people coming back each year, but even better to see new faces and to have the opportunity to build new relationships. We are incredibly grateful for the effort that people make to travel from far to visit our little corner of the Eastern Free State to view and buy our animals. All the hard work really is worth it when the end result is so much fun! Thank you to our partners in the auction, Frontier Borans, Peinke Ranch, Bos Blanco and Heeltevrede Boran Stoetery for contributing to the success of the day.

For a full run-down of auction results please click HERE.

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Quentin's new Massey Ferguson tractor - the performance of the tractor and service from OVK their new agent in the Eastern Free State has been magnificent!

Quentin’s new Massey Ferguson tractor – the performance of the tractor and service from OVK their new agent in the Eastern Free State has been magnificent!

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Thank you to Fanie Els (Vleissentraal) and our auctioneer Johan van der Nest for their hard work and support.

Thank you to Fanie Els (Vleissentraal) and our auctioneer Johan van der Nest for their hard work and support.

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Our daughter Livia loving the attention from the Biewenga clan from Gobabis in Namibia!

Our daughter Livia loving the attention from the Biewenga clan from Gobabis in Namibia!

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Our boerboel puppy, Duma was also part of the action!

Our boerboel puppy, Duma was also part of the action!

Quentin in the ring with Beauty MHB 08-17.

Quentin in the ring with Beauty MHB 08-17.

Beautiful 'flowers' once again done by very talented Debbie Johnson!

Beautiful table arrangements once again done by very talented Debbie Johnson!

Hoof trimming demonstration by Jaco de Bruin and Renier from DairySmit.

Hoof trimming demonstration by Jaco de Bruin and Renier de Villiers from Dairy-Smid.

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(Top) Stompie & Elri Olivier, Makena & Mona Scheepers, Werner Steinhobel. (Bottom) Quentin Oosthuizen, Stephen Johnson & Henry Stretton.

(Top) Stompie & Elri Olivier, Makena & Mona Scheepers, Werner Steinhobel. (Bottom) Quentin Oosthuizen, Stephen Johnson & Henry Stretton.

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Guest sellers Wilco du Toit, Nils & Annerie Pieterse from Pratos Borane.

Guest sellers Wilco du Toit, Nils & Annerie Pieterse from Pratos Borane.

Tinus Bessinger, Evan de Jager & Lou de Jager from Groenland Borane.

Tinus Bessinger, Evan de Jager & Lou de Jager from Groenland Borane.