It was 1986. Oil was $18 a barrel, Top Gun was the top grossing film; the first laptop was unveiled; the Bears won the Superbowl; the Mets the Series and the technology of ultrasound was added to the arsenal of tools used by Brinks Brangus and the resulting research and establishment of EPDs for carcass traits would become industry standards.
In the 20 years since, the industry has gained carcass EPDs, and the technology has allowed for rapid progress in genetic selection, as bulls and females can be identified for carcass merit as yearlings.
In 1986, Brinks Brangus donated an ultrasound machine to Kansas State University (KSU) and the first ribeye area measurements were taken. Brinks entered into what became known as the KSU Project.
The project included ultrasounding, designing progeny tests and gathering harvest data on calves sired by Brinks Brangus bulls. These calves were owned by Albert Wiggins in Kansas, Clemson University as well as others. The data and measurements would play a significant role in the way ultrasound information is utilized today.
In 1987 ultrasounding was incorporated into the Brinks herd as all yearling bulls and females were ultrasounded for the first time. This practice was continued by Klaus Birkel, when he purchased the cattle. Camp Cooley has implemented selection through the use of ultrasounding for their Angus and Charolais herds, as well.
Twelve months is the industry standard for taking the measurements today, but 20 years ago when to take the measurements was one of the big questions.
“In the early years, a lot of what we take for granted today, was unknown. In 1989, Brinks in conjunction with KSU conducted the “serial harvests.” These harvests included harvesting six head, every four months until the designated calves reached two years of age. Four different ultrasounding machines with four different technicians were used for each individual in each harvest,” explains Mark Cowan, Camp Cooley president, adding that the serial harvest results led to the industry determination that 12 months of age was the optimum age to measure ribeye area.
This information also played a key role in the establishment of ribeye and IMF EPDs, based on measurements taken as yearlings.
In 1990, NG Hotline of Brinks was identified as the top ribeye area yearling in the Brinks Sale and would become recognized as the eventual prepotent “muscle sire” in the breed and became a trait leader for ribeye area.
Hotline would produce Lineman of Brinks 881A7, who would sire Transformer of Brinks, who would in turn sire Brightside of Brinks 789G5—all sires who have been leaders for ribeye area.
“In the Spring 2006 Brangus Sire Summary, Transformer of Brinks, and four of his sons/grandsons are the top five REA trait leaders. In our mind this documents how important ultrasounding technology has become, as we can use the data for selection and advancement,” says Cowan.
In 1993, Klaus Birkel purchased the Brinks cowherd in its entirety and continued the ultrasounding practice and involvement in research, initiated by Glenn Brinkman.
In 1993, Camp Cooley contributed funding for IMF research at Iowa State University. This also marked the first time ever a yearling bull and heifer were ultrasounded for IMF, as well as REA, at Camp Cooley. In the same year, Auburn University, through Dr. John Hough and Dr. Lisa Kreise, began conducting research to identify the effects of selection for increased ribeye area.
Camp Cooley used this tool for genetic selection and in 1997, 14 of the top ribeye areas in the Brangus breed would carry the Brinks brand.
The Brangus breed began including IMF in the lists of traits analyzed for in the sire summary in 1999 and eight of the top ten sires for IMF were products of the Camp Cooley Ranch Brinks Brangus herd.
“Early on, the ribeye data was very significant. We wanted our females to have a 2.5 EPD for REA and that dictated what bulls we did use, while still breeding for balance. I feel like our females as a whole, have enough muscle and I don't think there are many females on the ranch of any breed that has a negative REA EPD today. We have always felt it was mportant to balance the rib shape and muscle with the maternal traits. I believe ultrasounding technology has allowed us to establish a wider base of genetics to use without sacrificing multi-traits just to acquire one trait,” explains Ken Hughes, Camp Cooley Ranch genetics and production manager.
By utilizing ultrasound, progress has been made through selecting sires with higher REA and IMF numbers.
In 1993, Camp Cooley cattle had an average REA of 11.44” and an IMF of 2.19, by 2005 these numbers increased to 13.78” and 3.64 respectively. The genetic trend is also documented in our Angus cattle as in 1998 the average REA was 9.16”, with an average IMF of 3.79 and by 2005 these numbers were 13.05” and 4.54. In the Charolais cattle the numbers reflected a REA of 12.35” and IMF of 3.18 in 1998 and 14.06 and 2.93 in IMF.
The 2006 Brangus Sire Summary documents the upward trend, as eight of the top ten ribeye area trait leaders and eight of the top ten IMF sires, are from Camp Cooley.
“We feel ultrasounding has created value for us. The genetic trends we have established for higher REA and IMF have contributed greatly to the demand we experience for our cattle. Our customers know us for the integrity of the data and this translates to trust and willingness to paymore for progressive genetics,” summarizes Cowan.