View From the Range

Data Collected on Ranch's Cattle to Help Make Improvements to Herd

Jennifer Carrico
By  Jennifer Carrico , Senior Livestock Editor
During the Silver Spur Kiowa Creek Ranch branding, tissue samples are taken on each calf to be used for DNA testing. Neighbor Corey Massey holds a tissue sampler while Misti Spiller scans the collection tube and neighbor Leland Oljker holds the calf. (DTN/Progressive farmer photo by Joel Reichenberger)

REDFIELD, Iowa (DTN) -- Improvements can be made in a purebred cowherd by evaluating cattle using data and phenotypic evaluation. Silver Spur Ranch, Kiowa Creek division, uses recordkeeping to select cattle to use in their herd and for other breeding programs.

Keeping accurate records for each animal helps gauge improvements within the Angus, Red Angus, Charolais and Range Fire herds. The data collection begins at birth and lasts throughout the entire life of the cattle.

Silver Spur Ranch Kiowa Creek Division is participating in DTN's View From the Range series, where DTN will follow a year at the ranch to give readers an inside look at how the ranch operates and cares for its animals.

This fifth segment in the series looks at why recordkeeping is important for making improvements on this ranch and for others who use these genetics.


"We begin collecting data when the calves are born. Birth weight is taken for each calf, and we are also recording any information on a cow's mothering ability," said Misti Spiller. She and husband, Decky, manage the Kiowa Creek Division. Misti oversees recordkeeping of this herd and others.

The most common data collected is weights at birth, weaning and yearling, but Spiller said there is so much more they collect and keep track of on each animal. Carcass ultrasound data is taken on each animal as well. Ribeye area, marbling and fat thickness is used to know which animals will perform or have progeny who perform well in the feedlot and on the rail. Bulls are also given a breeding soundness exam prior to being used each year.

PAP (pulmonary arterial pressure) scoring is important for Silver Spur. This is performed when animals are yearlings or older. Spiller said they will sometimes retest the bulls they use on the ranch if they have been purchased, so they have data available that was collected at their ranch. Most accurate PAP testing can be collected after animals have run on pasture above 5,000 feet for 30 days or more. The test is an indicator of animals with lower risk of developing high-altitude disease. At Silver Spur, the PAP test results are used extensively for decision making on replacement females and which bulls can be used on the ranch.

"We have to have cattle that will do well at high elevation at this ranch and others," she said. "If they won't, they might still be good cattle and we will sell them to someone at lower elevation."


At branding time, a tissue sample is collected on each calf and put in a single-use container with a barcode to be sent off for genomics scoring and parentage. A library of blood cards is also kept on herd bulls and all females in the registered herd. The extra cards are stored and can be used if a new genetic test needs to be performed.

Spiller said they double check parentage on all calves. After cows are artificially inseminated, they run with a group of bulls, and it is important for their records and when registering to know which of the herd bulls are working the best. The parentage will also show exactly which sire is the father of each calf.

Genomic expected progeny differences (EPDs) are used extensively with each of the breeds to more accurately predict how an animal will perform. The Spillers use this information when making breeding decisions. "The breed associations are constantly adding to what data is available for producers. Testing our own cattle lets us know how we compare to others," she said.

Silver Spur also has developed their own indexes for growth and fertility. By having all the information on each animal, they can sort for what information is used in their own indexes and see what animals are superior. This helps to determine what heifers will be kept as replacement females and what bulls will be used in the herd and at other ranch divisions.


"We even use this information in the commercial herd. The Encampment herd has a set of super cows that are superior in several categories," Spiller explained. "We will sort cattle on their data because we need to be aware of any outliers that don't work for our herd. Then we will look at the cattle and sort based on soundness and quality." Decky and Misti start sorting cattle at weaning, but the sort continues for several months as they evaluate the animals.

Silver Spur uses one database, and it works with all the breed associations. Data can be sorted and pulled into a spreadsheet for each association when registering cattle and to make the data searchable by the entire breed. Data is also sorted when selecting cattle as replacements for each of the other Silver Spur ranches. Challenges need dealt with on each ranch -- the lowest PAP cattle need to go to the higher-elevation ranches, low-birthweight sires need to go to ranches with birthing issues, and improvements can be made at other ranches based on specific selection.

"The database also has a place for comments. We are constantly adding to this when it comes to disposition, feet, legs, udders and other traits," she explained. "We look at the functional traits so females can survive as a cow on the ranch."

Records can help make the improvements needed to a herd, especially when accurate data is collected continuously on all the animals. The vertical integration of the Silver Spur Ranch herds allows improvements to be made in larger numbers.

Editor's Note: To see the first four stories in this series, go to:

-- "Follow Colorado Cattle Ranch Through the Year,"…

-- "Colorado's Silver Spur Ranch Shares Calving and Tagging System Tips,"…

-- "Silver Spur Ranch Success Comes From Ensuring Good Health for Cattle and Cowboys,"…

-- "Silver Spur Ranch Spring Branding Protects Cattle, Owners,"…

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Jennifer Carrico