by: Micky Burch
Managing Editor

BIF stands for "Beef Improvement Federation." It's a national organization that was formed in 1968 to standardize programs and methodologies and create greater awareness, acceptance and usage of beef cattle performance concepts. The purpose of BIF, as expressed in its bylaws, is five-fold:

1) Uniformity: To work for establishment of accurate and uniform procedures for measuring, recording and assessing data concerning the performance of beef cattle, which may be used participant organizations.

2) Development: To assist member organizations and/or their affiliates improvement and quality management programs consistent with the needs of their members and the common goals of such generally accepted record keeping programs.

3) Cooperation: To develop cooperation among all segments of the beef industry in the compilation and utilization of performance records to improve efficiency, profitability and sustainability of beef production.

4) Education: To encourage the Federation's member organizations to develop educational programs emphasizing the use and interpretation of performance data and quality management programs improving the efficiency, profitability and sustainability of beef production.

5) Confidence: To develop the increased confidence of the beef industry in the economic potential available from performance measurement and assessment.

BIF is comprised of member organizations that include provincial, state and national beef cattle improvement associations and other organizations that sponsor beef cattle improvement; breed associations in the U.S. and Canada that are involved in performance programs. Associate memberships are available to individuals or agencies interested in beef cattle performance.

Performance Standards

When one walks up to a pen of cattle, the first thing they may do is visually appraise what's standing before them. Phenotype is an animal's observable physical characteristics and combines genetics and environment; it encompasses every weight or measurement that can be taken on an animal. A calf's weaning weight, for example, is dependent not only on its genetic potential for growth, but also on the environment it experienced, including the herd, year and season it was born; and its weaning age, access to nutrition and milk yield of its dam. This example explains why proper genetic evaluation of beef cattle is complex. However, the basic initial premise is simple -- individual animals are evaluated based upon how well they performed in comparison to herd mates raised under comparable environmental conditions. In other words, how well did each animal perform within its contemporary group? Breed registries generally define rules for effective contemporary grouping according to breed composition, gender, age range between the oldest and youngest calf within the group and management conditions. In doing so, all the cattle have had an equal opportunity to perform. Contemporary grouping in beef cattle genetic evaluations is an attempt to account for environmental effects so remaining differences among animals more closely reflect heritable differences among them.

Reporting data from all eligible animals is an important aspect of contemporary grouping that deserves special attention. Breeders may be tempted to record and register only the better performing calves within their herd. They might also worry that recording data on poorer performing calves will reflect unfavorably on their herd. Both of these conclusions are incorrect. Unless inventory and performance data are submitted on every calf born in a herd, subsequent genetic evaluations will be based on less information and, consequently, will be less accurate than would otherwise have been possible. Even worse, genetic evaluations may be biased. If only calves with good performance are reported, they may not get the credit they truly deserve. The producer is the only person that knows exactly how calves have been managed. It's their responsibility to ensure that contemporary groupings accurately reflect that knowledge.

Further in the Guidelines for Uniform Beef Improvement Programs, 9th Edition, BIF suggests producers utilize Whole Herd Reporting (WHR), which starts by simply recording male and female reproductive performance. This information can be used to monitor overall reproductive performance; identify genetic, environmental, and management areas in which to concentrate improvement efforts; assist in selection and culling decisions; and generate data for producing genetic predictions for reproductive traits. WHR is encouraged because, in the past, beef breed genetic evaluations were based on progeny weaned and/or registered, but didn't require data be recorded on females that failed to reproduce or whose progeny weren't registered. By contrast, WHR requires the collection of annual production and performance records on all cattle within a herd. It doesn't, however, seek to control which animals are registered -- that remains a decision of individual breeders.

National Cattle Evaluation

One of the many important programs BIF initiated is the National Cattle Evaluation (NCE). The goal of NCE is to produce the best possible genetic predictions of breeding values on all animals available as breeding stock for traits of economic importance in commercial beef production. Breed associations are encouraged to develop these programs to provide the beef industry with information to enhance selection decisions in seedstock and commercial operations, and to provide genetic information to facilitate use of crossbreeding systems in commercial beef production. A critical part of a sound NCE is the use of common sires, via artificial insemination, that produce progeny in many herds. The use of common or reference sires across herds to allow direct comparisons among animals provides the foundation for genetic evaluation programs.

To make sustained contributions to a breeding program, bulls should be structurally and reproductively sound. A thorough breeding soundness exam should be performed annually on all bulls two to four weeks before the start of mating. Components of breeding soundness exams include a physical examination, measurement of scrotal circumference, rectal palpation of internal organs, and examination of semen for progressive linear motility and normal morphology. Likewise, many concepts involved in sire selection are equally appropriate to replacement female selection. Since most genetic progress results from sire selection female selection is generally less intense. From an economic perspective, selected replacement females should calve first at two years of age, reproduce annually thereafter, and remain in the herd for an extended period time.

While this is just a brief summary of who BIF is and what they do, it's also some insight into their preferred beef cattle performance standards.

To learn more about BIF, visit

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