At the 2013 Cattlemen’s College at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention last week in Tampa, Fla., legendary cattleman Dave Nichols of Nichols Farms in Bridgewater, Iowa spoke about the importance of technology and genetics.

Nichols Farms is a large seedstock operation selling cattle genetics in 27 countries. Nichols says they grew to this point by doing two things early on. “In 1955 we had the first herd that was put in a computer,” he said. “We were the first herd to use ultrasound for marbling and did it every 28 days, weaning through yearling.”

Nichols is a believer in genetics and crossbreeding to get the best results. “Research from the 1920s show crossbreed to crossbreed increased production 30%. But it must be done right. You need pure line grandparents to know how do they calve, how do they grow and how do they sell.”

Nichols said beef is an interesting case when compared to other animal proteins in the way that weight matters throughout its lifetime. “Beef sells weight times the money as weanlings, yearlings, fed cattle, carcasses and boxed beef. The only other species that is sold like that in a restaurant is lobster.”

Nichols also spoke about how the cattle industry is changing. “We have been losing 3-7% of our cows in Iowa every year. Our customer base used to be as far as 40 miles away, now it’s 400. We used to run a cow-calf pair on four acres and wean a 500+ pound calf, and now we run one on 1.8 acres and wean a 700+ pound calf.

“We have competition from foreign countries. Only the U.S. and Argentina can finish cattle on corn efficiently. DNA enables us to select for feed efficiency. And DNA is the answers to feeding a lot of people on less land.

“We need to do everything we can to maintain and improve efficiency of cattle production.”