Have a specific question about U.S. livestock genetics and its export or import? Scott Jensen, an Extension Educator with the University of Idaho, will track down the information that you need.

How do I select the best cattle to improve my beef breeding program?

Selection begins with an honest assessment of where your cattle are currently in terms of the performance measures that are important to you. Do you want to increase weaning or yearling weights? Do you need to improve end-carcass quality? Is calving difficulty a problem in your herd? What are your goals for improvement? Once you determine where your cattle  currently are in relation to your goals, you will have some direction to guide selection of breeding stock. You can then look for sires that excel in the traits that you want to improve. A word of caution: Avoid any single-trait selection as it can lead to unintended consequences. For example, focus solely on increasing weaning weight will likely cause an increase in birth weight. Any selection decisions should be balanced to consider all important traits. The use of selection indexes can aid in this balance.

Category: Dairy, Beef
How do you read the information on a straw of U.S. bull semen?

As per the National Association of Animal Breeders (NAAB), a semen straw has the bull's name with country and registration number. For example, 840003205704153 RMD-DOTTERER SSI GAMEDAY-ET is the bull's registration number and registered name. The 840 at the beginning of the registration number means that the animal is wearing a U.S. radio frequency identification (RFID) tag and is likely registered in the United States, and the leading two 0’s may be omitted to save printing space on the straw. Additionally, the straw has an NAAB Uniform Code that identifies either the production center where the semen was produced or the organization that is marketing the semen, breed code, and bull identification (ID) number within source organization. In this example, the NAAB Uniform Code is 7HO15167. The first number 7 is the stud or marketing code for conventional semen marketed by Select Sires; HO is the breed code for Holstein, and 15167 is the bull ID number assigned by Select Sires. All assigned NAAB codes must be reported to NAAB and enrolled in the cross-reference database. Straws with the CSS logo have been processed according to the strict quality and biosecurity requirements of NAAB’s Certified Semen Services (CSS) program. Each straw includes even more traceability information, and more examples and details can be found at or at the educational website Additionally, NAAB has a database that contains the codes for each AI source organization. (Updated April 10, 2023)

Category: Dairy, Beef, Semen & Embryos
Are there any short courses offered on cattle handling or optimizing pastures?

Faculty at many U.S. agricultural universities offer classes on cattle handling, optimizing pastures, artificial insemination (AI), and grazing management, especially across the western and southwestern United States. For example, Extension faculty at the University of Idaho offer the Lost Rivers Grazing Academy each year, which is a national award-winning pasture management program. They also offer classes in beef quality assurance, which often includes proper handling, and AI courses are taught annually.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association also conducts several educational programs across North America. Stockmanship and Stewardship is a unique 2-day educational experience featuring low-stress cattle handling demonstrations, Beef Quality Assurance educational sessions, facility design sessions to best run your operation, and industry updates. Beef Quality Assurance is a nationally coordinated, State-implemented program that provides systematic information to U.S. beef producers and beef consumers of how common-sense husbandry techniques can be coupled with accepted scientific knowledge to raise cattle under optimum management and environmental conditions.

If you have an interest in attending specific training, please email me ( with details, and I will connect you with Extension faculty or organizations in the United States that can meet your needs. (Updated August 10, 2023)

Category: Dairy, Beef
What are the requirements to import product X (semen, embryos, live animals) into country Y?

The current requirements for importing livestock genetics products into various countries around the world can be found on the website of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS): Scroll down the page to the green box "IRegs for LIVE Animals"; then select the desired country from the dropdown menu. Information is arranged by species. If you have additional questions, please contact one of the livestock exporters listed in the online USLGE member directory.

Category: Dairy, Beef, Swine, Equine, Small Ruminants, Semen & Embryos
Why are some calves more resistant to sickness than others, especially when all have been vaccinated?

Recently an Idaho feedlot owner expressed concern over the lack of immunity that some groups of calves seemed to have when entering the feedlot. Calves from some ranches had nearly a 4% death loss with a fairly high percentage of the calves in the group requiring treatment, but others had less than 1% death loss with few being treated. Often the blame is placed on the vaccine, but research indicates that lack of immunity can be attributed to several factors that include vaccine handling, nutrition, and stress at the time of vaccination.

Key points to remember in handling vaccines include storing them at the proper temperature, keeping them cool throughout use, keeping them out of the sunlight, only mixing modified-live vaccines as needed, and administering them as directed on the label. All vaccinations should be given in the neck region of the animal.

Stress at vaccination time can significantly reduce immune response to a vaccine. Stress can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as excessive heat or cold, lengthy separation from the cow, or rough handling. You may not be able to control the weather, but timing of processing and vaccination might help prevent excessive conditions. As you gather calves for processing, do so slowly and quietly whether done on a calf table or at the end of a rope. Allow young calves to move at their own pace and stay paired up with their mothers. Separation time from the cow should be minimized as much as possible. Sorting pairs into smaller bunches that can be worked in 3–4 hours can be worthwhile. Keeping calf stress minimal allows them to develop an adequate immune response, which will pay dividends to the producer in the form of more healthy calves and to the feedlot with fewer dead calves and fewer treated for sickness.

Category: Dairy, Beef
How do you handle vaccines at branding?

Springtime has rolled around again, which means branding and vaccination time for many producers. Vaccine mishaps at branding time occur much to frequently. Often the job of administering vaccines is given to the least experienced person on the crew with little thought given to training. I recommend that managers/crew bosses take time before each branding to review the following proper vaccine handling practices with their help:

  • Read and follow the label for each vaccine. Administer according to label instructions. The label is the law.
  • Keep vaccines cool and out of direct sunlight, even during branding time.
  • Use a subcutaneous injection if allowed by label.
  • Administer vaccines in the recommended injection triangle in the neck.
  • Label syringes to avoid mix-ups when refilling.
  • Mix modified live vaccines as needed, one bottle at a time. Never mix more than can be used in 1 hour as the efficacy will begin to decline. Throw away any leftover modified live vaccine. 
  • Use a transfer needle when mixing modified live vaccines.
  • Never combine different vaccines.

Although being on the roping end is generally much more exciting and fun at a branding, vaccine handling and administration is too important to leave entirely to a rookie. Take the time to provide proper training and oversight. A review of these simple practices can help to ensure that this important job is done correctly, thus providing the best chance of protection against disease for the cattle.

Category: Beef
What types and breeds of sheep does the U.S. export?

The United States exports all types and breeds of sheep. Some of the more sought-after breeds are the American Blackbelly, Katahdin, and St. Croix.

American Blackbelly sheepThe American Blackbelly is a hair sheep that is highly adaptable to different management programs, very prolific, and produces a fine-grained and mild meat.

Katahdin sheepKatahdin are hair sheep that are hardy and adaptable and also produce excellent lamb crops and lean, meaty carcasses.

St. Croix sheepSt. Croix sheep are climate adapted, fertile, and excellent foragers with exceptional parasite resistance.

Source: OSU Breeds of Livestock, Sheep

Category: Small Ruminants
What should I do with my beef bulls now that breeding season is over?

Following the breeding season, managing beef bulls can be a challenge. They aren’t actively contributing to the bottom line and can be hard on fences and facilities. However, they do represent a significant investment, and you should plan to meet their needs while attempting to keep costs at a minimum.

As bulls complete the breeding season, they should be evaluated and sorted. Mature bulls in good condition will be of the least concern and shouldn’t require any special attention. Old bulls and any bulls with physical defects (crippled, bad eyes, etc.) should be marketed. Young bulls and thin bulls should form a third group that can receive the additional feed and attention necessary to prepare them for the next breeding season.

All bulls should have access to a high-quality mineral mix high in phosphorus as phosphorus is critical for reproduction and is usually present in inadequate amounts in dry or harvested forage. Mixing phosphorus with salt is often necessary to ensure consumption. Vitamin A is also important in the bull diet and should be included in the mineral supplement. An injectable form of vitamin A can be stored in the body for up to 6 months.

Mature bulls can generally winter well on an all-roughage diet. They should be fed about 2% of their body weight on a dry matter basis per day. The goal should be to maintain a moderate body condition of 5 to 7. If needed, protein can be supplemented to compensate for any protein deficiencies in lower quality hay or straw.

Young and thin bulls should be placed on high-quality forage, which could include some fall regrowth of alfalfa fields, planted annual forages, or high-quality hay. Because young bulls are still growing, they are still putting on additional muscle and bone structure as well as need to restore lost body condition. Condition gained during the off-season can help increase their breeding longevity. Concentrates fed should be high in protein. A high-energy diet is not desirable as being overweight tends to impede reproductive activity.

If possible, bull pastures should be isolated away from cows so that bulls are quieter and fight less. Having plenty of room encourages adequate exercise and reduces fighting. About 2 acres per bull is recommended after the breeding season.

Salvage bulls have considerable value in today’s cattle market. High salvage values are encouragement to replace older or less productive bulls with younger bulls of higher genetic merit.

No matter how you winter your bulls, have your veterinarian conduct a breeding soundness exam for each bull 30 to 60 days prior to the start of next year’s breeding season.

Category: Beef
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