ASA Board Chairman Tim Curran remarks on ASA programs and key issues facing the Board of Trustees.
Troendle: Tell us about your background, cattle, and family.
Curran: My wife, Jill, and our two sons, Taylor and Austin, operate Circle Ranch in Ione, CA, located 45 miles southeast of Sacramento. In addition to our home ranch, we have other grazing leases in the area and own a summer ranch in the town of Sattley, CA, about 40 miles north of Lake Tahoe. My first exposure to Simmental cattle was in 1974 when a neighbor purchased a Simmental bull to run on his purebred Hereford cows. The results were incredible. I was able to buy a few of those first half blood females and have owned Simmental cattle ever since. In 2007 we held our first annual bull sale with Bruin Ranch, Auburn, CA, and this year will mark our 14th bull sale. We market 250 bulls annually with Bruin Ranch. We develop SimAngus™ composites, while Bruin markets Angus. I’m a past president of our county cattlemen’s association and have been a director for 25 years. At our county fair, Jill and I help manage the commercial cattlemen's pen show and formed the Junior Bred Female Sale.
Troendle: What were your thoughts as you assumed this leadership post?
Curran: My thoughts were to keep this momentum going. The growth and success of ASA has been incredible over the last decade, and my vision was don’t do anything to slow it down. In fact, just the opposite, keep our foot on the gas. Twenty years ago, ASA was just starting to gain footing from some very difficult times financially and from an industry acceptance standpoint. Today, we are finally here. Domestic SimGenetic semen sales have increased every year for a decade, Sim-influenced feeder cattle numbers have soared, and bull sale averages are on par with any other breed.
Troendle: During your term as Board Chairman, are there any major actions you would like to see accomplished?
Curran: The ASA science team is working on a number of new projects right now, and it’s hard to predict what is right around the corner. What I would most like to see is a number of the current projects wrapped up to make time available for the new ones as they come in. The foot and leg project is one that I would like to see an EPD developed for soon.
Troendle: How important is it to have diversity on the Board?
Curran: Board diversity is very important. It’s the obligation of each board member to make us aware of issues facing members in their region that the rest of the board is not aware of. In my home state of California, PAP scoring and hair shedding is not an issue we have to deal with, but in other states across the country, both are of major concern. That’s why ASA has put forth so much effort on both of these issues. Simbrah cattle are another good example, virtually nonexistent in the northern regions, but Simbrah cattle are a vital part of our business in the southern regions.
Troendle: How do you as Board Chairman encourage all Trustees, including newly elected ones, to become active participants in the decision-making process?
Curran: Getting new board members actively involved in the decision-making process starts from day one. Each new member is assigned to at least two committees and immediately information relevant to that committee is sent to the new member to get them up to speed on all the issues they are working on. When I was first a Trustee, if I wasn’t clear on an issue that we would be discussing, I would routinely call existing board members or staff to make sure I fully understood before the discussion. I feel any new trustee after serving his or her first year on the board is fully capable of chairing most any committee.
Troendle: As a member and board member, you have seen International Genetics Solutions (IGS) take root. How would you assess the effectiveness and scope of that entity?
Curran: In just a few short years, IGS has evolved from a concept to the largest beef cattle genetic evaluation in the world. How was this possible? Nineteen partners and 9 breeds with one common goal, all committed to improving the whole beef business, not just individual breeds. Of course, each breed has a commitment to its own members, but beyond that, all are in lockstep with the commitment to making all of our commercial customers more profitable. By far the biggest breakthrough was the unveiling of the IGS Multi-breed Genetic Evaluation powered by BOLT in 2018. This new single-step approach in incorporating an animal’s DNA into the evaluation has made even young, unproven animals more predictable. IGS launched the Feeder Profit Calculator™ (FPC), which again benefits all breeds, not just Simmental, as a way to establish the profitability of different groups of feeder cattle. Just as the FPC was beginning to help commercial cattlemen better market their feeder cattle, ASA announced a partnership with the Holstein Association USA to identify high-quality SimAngus and Simmental bulls to be used on their fast-growing beef-on-dairy program. After experimenting with numerous beef breeds, Holstein came to ASA to form their new beef-on-dairy program called HolSim™ to identify high carcass-value SimGentic bulls to use in their program.
Troendle: What has been the effect of Total Herd Enrollment (THE)?
Curran: Whole herd reporting is an absolutely essential part of any breed association’s genetic evaluation and unfortunately not all breed associations offer a whole herd reporting program. Just the power of the STAY EPD alone is reason enough to implement whole herd reporting. ASA has shown time and time again the vital importance of whole herd contemporary groups. The Cow Herd DNA Roundup and the recently launched Calf Crop Genomics projects are great examples, with huge discounts if a breeder participates but only if submitting samples and data on the whole cow herd or calf contemporary groups.
Troendle: What do you think the impact will be of updating the Performance Advocate criteria?
Curran: The new guidelines in the Performance Advocate Program will encourage the submission of even more data to our genetic evaluation. The original system of 100% reporting on six traits was somewhat unrealistic. The new two-tiered system requiring 90% reporting on eight of 13 traits will qualify more breeders for the program and also bring in more data for the genetic evaluation.
Troendle: In your opinion, how impactful has ASA’s Carcass Merit Program (CMP) been in changing the perception of SimGenetics? How has it changed our breed?
Curran: As the longest-running carcass merit program in the industry, CMP has helped move SimGenetics to the top of the industry. Not long ago ASA had a program called 70:70:0; the goal being 70% Choice, 70% yield grade (YG) 1s and 2s with 0 outs (zero YG 4s, YG5s, no heavy carcasses). Today, Simmental cattle routinely shatter those standards. A recent group of Simsired steers recorded 100% Choice, 43% CAB, and 65% YG 1s and 2s. Those kinds of numbers are becoming common today that were unheard of just a few years ago and much of the credit to this improvement comes from our Carcass Merit Program.
Although ultrasound data has correlated value, real carcass data improves the accuracy quicker because it’s the ultimate phenotype we are measuring. For example, if we collect carcass data on 10 calves, it would give us an accuracy boost of .2. If we have the same number of calves that we collect ultrasound data on, it would only improve accuracy by .1.
In 2018, the ASA board voted to supercharge it’s carcass collection efforts with the Carcass Expansion Project which committed an additional $100,000 per year for five years to large amounts of carcass data on commercial herds across the country. This commitment to carcass collection is unmatched by any other breed association.
Troendle: How has ASA’s Progress Through Performance (PTP) program contributed to breed improvement?
Curran: PTP has continued to couple the importance of traits that have traditionally been measured most effectively through visual appraisal (udder structure, skeletal soundness, and fleshing ability to name a few) with greater awareness and selection for those traits that are better measured using scientific approaches such as growth traits, carcass merit, and cow longevity. Most importantly, the PTP approach has allowed junior exhibitors, adult members, judges, and potential SimGenetic clientele who are in attendance to have open discussions about how to balance the selection for these traits within their own programs. PTP exposes both our younger attendees and those new to our breed to tools that speak to their interests now and the beef business’ demands in the future.
Troendle: How has the implementation of DNA markers changed the beef industry? Cow Herd DNA Roundup?
Curran: Cow Herd DNA Roundup (CHR) is to-date the most complete project for collecting DNA on whole cow herds in the US. Other breeds may have more actual mature cow DNA on file, but by putting emphasis on the value of the collection of whole herd data, the information is much more meaningful and accurate. To me, one of the best parts of the project was now we have all the DNA on file. Sure, it immediately increased the accuracy of all the EPDs in the cow’s pedigree, but the important part is now as any new need comes along, we may already have genotypes on file for a large swath of the database. Any new EPDs waiting in the wings from PAP to Foot and Leg or Hair Shedding, the DNA is already on file and ready to go.
Troendle: Genetic defects are a major issue of discussion in the beef industry. How would you assess ASA’s approach to this subject?
Curran: ASA’s approach is expensive but very good. Any high-frequency animals with suspect in their lineage must be tested and cleared before registration numbers are returned on progeny. A higher cost upfront but over time will not only save members money but starts us down the road toward clean pedigrees faster.
Troendle: What benefits do the all-purpose index ($API) and terminal index ($TI) provide?
Curran: Simplicity. A quick glance at an animals $API, and you will know if you are in the ballpark for a certain sire being considered depending on the percentile rank number you will accept. But as with all EPDs, your work in sire selection is not over. This bull is going to impact your cowherd for a couple of decades, so now you need to go to work contacting breeders that may have daughters in production and get their input on the maternal value of this sire. Selecting for $TI is a completely different process. As long as the sire considered is acceptable for BW and CE for your program go with a $TI number you like.
Troendle: What is the impact of the Educational Promotion of ASA’s Services and Programs?
Curran: Any member can find answers to most any question by going to the ASA website and searching on the Learning Library or going to Herdbook Services to guide you through your data submission questions. It’s all there.
Troendle: What is your assessment of ASA’s youth program?
Curran: Our youth program combines a balanced understanding of the beef industry while building networks, and developing leadership and communication skills. From the Regional and National Classic competitions to the IGS Leadership Summit and the Steer Profitability Competition, youth programs provide meaningful exposure to all segments of the beef industry. We are thankful for the monetary contributions, along with the widespread support of staff, parents, and industry stakeholders, ensuring our youth get a well-rounded, educational, and memorable experience each year.
Troendle: Comment on the importance of the American Simmental Simbrah Foundation (ASF).
Curran: The Foundation plays a crucial support role for a wide array of programs. These programs run the gamut from very youth-focused to heavily science-oriented. And this is appropriate. It allows members to leverage their personal contributions to benefit programs that have a specific importance to them and their families. The ASF board members serve as the front line for the vital role of fundraising. It is a pleasure to follow the work of the Foundation as there has been a resurgence of energy that is evident both by visiting with board members and membership at large.
Troendle: How important is it for ASA members to be involved in the decision-making process, through voting and attendance at local, state, regional, and national meetings?
Curran: Members need to remember that even though they might not be able to attend the Board of Trustees meetings held throughout the year you have a strong voice. Many a time, I have sat in board meetings and discussed emails or calls we have received from a member. It’s not often a member takes the time to write a board member about a particular issue so when they do, we take it seriously, trust me. And in this new era of meetings held over the internet, members are encouraged to attend any board meetings they wish and can have their voices heard even if they are unable to physically attend.
Troendle: During this time where people are relying more and more on the Internet and electronic communication, what do you perceive as the future for ASA’s Publication?
Curran: In the short term, I don’t see any major changes in how our publications are distributed but as members from my generation slowly get out of the business and the younger generation takes over a larger percentage of the membership, electronic copies of all publications will be the norm.
Troendle: How has COVID-19 affected the ASA day to day operations?
Curran: ASA is very fortunate that the COVID-19 pandemic has had very little effect on customer services. With the structure of our business, it has been relatively easy for our employees to work from home. As of writing this, our Junior National Show has been moved from Nebraska to South Dakota and is still on schedule. Our April board meetings were held online. One positive to come out of this is that we had the most member participation in years. Our annual Fall Focus that was to be held in Virginia has been postponed to next year, but our board meeting will be held in Bozeman.