Live Animal Ultrasound Information as a Decision Tool in Replacement Beef Heifer Programs

By Santos, Alecsandro Dos; Anderson, John D. et al. | Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Live Animal Ultrasound Information as a Decision Tool in Replacement Beef Heifer Programs


Santos, Alecsandro Dos, Anderson, John D., Vann, Rhonda C., Willard, Scott T., Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics


Real-time ultrasound information taken on beef heifers prior to backgrounding is used to develop a logit model to aid heifer retention decisions. The value of ultrasound data is calculated as the difference in certainty equivalents between a decision rule incorporating ultrasound information and one using only visual cues. The value of ultrasound data is found to be around $10 per head but is influenced by heifer value and backgrounding costs.

Key Words: expected utility, heifer development, logit, real-time ultrasound

JEL Classifications: Q11, Q12, Q13

Real-time ultrasound technology (RTU) is a management tool that provides information about relevant carcass characteristics of live animals. Research indicates a positive correlation (moderate to high) between carcass and ultrasound measurement of key physical traits (Brethour). Estimation of carcass characteristics in live animals potentially allows for sorting and selecting animals to be retained for finishing as well as allowing better projections as to the length of the animals' time on feed and target end point. Although this technology has been frequently applied to decisions in the finishing phase of production, little work has been done concerning the potential use of this technology in other aspects of beef production (Anderson, Ferguson, and Brethour). Live animal ultrasound measurements not only can be used to predict carcass quality and yield grades prior to slaughter but also may be a good estimator of other aspects of an animal's physiological development and subsequent physiological functions.

Focusing on a number of physical markers related to physiological maturity (as opposed to carcass quality) and the potential benefit that RTU can bring to a replacement beef heifer breeding program, the objective of this study is to determine whether RTU information can be used to improve beef heifer retention decisions. Specifically, this study will quantify the value of ultrasound information on the relevant physical characteristics of yearling beef heifers in selecting individual animals to include in a replacement heifer development program. Because of the limited information on the cost of obtaining ultrasound information at the farm level in the context of a commercial cow/calf operation, this research focuses on the contribution of ultrasound information to increased gross revenue (though estimates of cost will be discussed later). This work is unique in two important respects. First, while the value of ultrasound information as a marketing-decision aid is explored in recent agricultural economics literature, investigations into the value of this technology in evaluating farmlevel production decisions are scarce. Second, this research will measure the value of ultrasound information with reference to decision-maker utility, thus taking into consideration the varying degrees of risk associated with all the possible market outlets for the calves under consideration (specifically, sale as stocker/light feeder heifers, heavy feeder heifers, and bred heifers).

Background and Related Studies

Replacement beef heifers represent an important investment in the genetic improvement of the cow/calf enterprise and as such are crucial to the future profitability of the cow/calf operation. In this context, the use of RTU technology allows the measurement of the physical attributes of females being considered as replacement animals. This relationship between RTU information and key physiological characteristics (such as age of puberty) could provide a useful means of improving genetic selection decisions. Specifically, RTU measurements may be of value in predicting which heifers are most likely to reach puberty at the youngest age and successfully conceive in an artificial breeding program and which animals should be marketed (either sold or retained) as feeder cattle. Reducing the number of heifers that fail to reach puberty at physiologic age (12-15 months) and thus also fail to conceive in advanced artificial breeding systems could represent an important means of improving returns to such programs. …

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Live Animal Ultrasound Information as a Decision Tool in Replacement Beef Heifer Programs
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