In southern New Mexico's rough country, Norma Brennand spends her day like most cattle ranchers. With her husband, David, she works hard, repairs fences and carefully manages their purebred Angus herd, all while respecting both the bounty and wrath Mother Nature might bestow the dry landscape — and their livelihood.

For 20 years, the couple has worked on their remote ranch near Pinon, splayed across the 6,000-foot-plus elevation and miles off the paved road. There, it's just Norma and David.

With little outside help — their children were grown when they settled there — Norma says she cherishes the remoteness of the place, away from a world obsessed with technological gadgets and starved for attention spans. Not to say their locale and team of a meager two is problem-free. It poses its share of challenges, she admits.

“For smaller breeders like myself who are about 100 miles from town, it's so costly to coordinate people like ultrasound techs and veterinarians to come out here,” Norma says. “The mileage fee alone is killer. And we can't scan the cattle in our regular working pens without electricity so we need to bring them up here by the house. It just doesn't work well for our scenario.”

So when she read about the American Angus Association®'s genomic-enhanced expected progeny differences (EPDs) in a regional publication last fall, she was intrigued.

The high-accuracy genomic-enhanced EPDs incorporate the Association pedigree, carcass and ultrasound performance data, with genomic profile results using the animals DNA to produce EPDs for carcass merit. The American Angus Association's Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI) — through its partnership with Merial's IGENITY® — provides genomic-enhanced carcass trait EPDs along with an Angus-specific profile listing 14 total traits.

For both seedstock and commercial producers, the implementation of genomic technology into the Angus National Cattle Evaluation (NCE) procedures provides the most accurate, convenient genetic evaluation available.

“The increase in accuracy from incorporating the high-accuracy IGENITY profile for Angus is equivalent to having progeny data on several head,” says Dr. Sally Northcutt, Association director of genetic research. “In the case of a female, using the profile may be the equivalent of nearly a lifetime of production in terms of data on her progeny.”

But could the technology really be that easy to implement?

“Yes,” Norma says. “It's so much more convenient to do this. I just can't tell you how easy it is,” she says.

On the ranch

As the Brennands bring calves in for their second set of shots, they take samples to submit to AGI for analysis. Then, Norma submits a profile order and mails the samples to AGI. In a matter of weeks, she receives carcass genomic-enhanced EPDs and profile scores for other important traits where EPDs are not yet available. FTA cards are the preferred method of collection, but producers may also submit hair samples.

“I can show the customer the potential for these calves in a much quicker time frame, and we already DNA-test for parentage,” she says. “This could be a wonderful tool for small hobby-type producers, too. He orders his supplies, he takes samples, and he has his EPDs.”

Regardless of herd size or location, the technology benefits all Angus producers, Bill Bowman, AGI president, says. “Producers can be confident this technology will help to improve their selection decisions, to indicate the genetic merit of their animals, and to increase the accuracy of EPDs.”

Norma says, “With the data coming in, it's a tremendous asset.”

Bottomline benefits

At $65, the Angus-specific profile is well worth the cost, she says.

“So for the same or less cost, here I have all of these 14 traits on each calf that I can present to the buyer,” Norma notes.

In tough times the information is even more cost-effective, she adds.

“When you're in a severe drought and you need to start culling your numbers, this pretty much tells you which gal to keep and which you should get rid of. It tells you just about everything.”

With little effort, producers can incorporate sample collection with just a blood spot on an FTA card when they're working calves.

“It's just a wonderful, easy thing. We have a lot of breeders here in New Mexico that do not have EPDs. This would help them,” she says. “I firmly believe in this, and I think we're on the cutting edge.” That's a place Norma savors at the end of her five-mile dusty road.

“When we first came here, everyone said ‘No, Angus will never work here,'” she says, so the Brennands bought 120 head of another breed and brought them to the ranch.

“That was the biggest wreck we've ever had,” she said. “We didn't know whether those calves were going to be 60 pounds or 100 pounds. We were pulling calves day and night…. So we started buying Angus bulls, and put them on those heifers. Then we were sleeping at night. So I started buying some registered heifers and now we don't have any calving problems.”

These days, Norma's life on the ranch is a little easier thanks to Angus cattle and EPDs.

“These calves now are so sweet. They are quiet, and I'm just completely pleased,” she says. “Now I go out on my 4-wheeler when I'm checking on things. I can go right up beside them, and some put their nose on my hand. That's how it should be.”

For more information about the American Angus Association® or its selection tools, visit, contact your Angus regional manager, or call (816) 383-5100.


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