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Although I've been with CAB since 2009, I'm the newest member of the Black Ink team as a Supply Programs Manager. I'm the third generation to thrive from my family's Angus farm near Orleans, Indiana and am a proud alumni of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. I'm a gypsy at heart, yet my constant love for God, family and agriculture keep me grounded no matter where I am on the globe. I like my meat red, my cattle black and my basketball Kentucky blue!
Hot topics, On the ranch

Solving the Mystery of DNA – Part II

If you missed yesterday’s post, I’m back today with more CSI-style intel. Er, Cattle Sampling Information that is.

There are some DNA testing fundamentals that are consistent with all types of testing. Labeling each collection card for animal ID and keeping a clean work area are general. If our tips for blood collection aren’t universal enough for your operation, here are a few reminders specific to hair collection for DNA purposes.

Location, location, location
As tempting and accessible as the tail head is, DNA samples really should come from the tail switch. Pull up and away from the tail for best results.

Scissors won’t cut it
Running isn’t the only activity you should leave your scissors at home for. In hair sampling, the only part of the hair that is actually sampled is the root ball on the very end of the hair follicle. Samples must be pulled out by the root. Whatever you do, don’t collect hair clippings.

Go for quality AND quantity
Make sure you have enough hairs with in-tact root bulbs on the card. Twenty hairs is usually a good magic number to shoot for.

Cleanliness still matters
When it comes to manure, the same rules apply as blood collection. Tail switch hairs should be free from mud and feces to ensure that the tests are accurate.

Don’t leave loose ends
The root bulb end of the hair should be placed in between the films on the collection card. That is where the lab takes samples. Use the scissors that we outlawed for collection and put them to good use in trimming excess hair so that there is nothing hanging off the edge of the card.

For more step by step directions on hair collection, check out this flyer.

With all these tips on DNA sampling, I’m curious how you plan to implement today’s technology. Let us know how you use information from DNA testing to add more black ink to your bottom line!

– Kara

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Hot topics

Solving the Mystery of DNA Collection – Part I

The Black Ink team has been talking about DNA technology quite a bit lately and how it relates to cattlemen. But let’s face it, anytime you implement a new tool in your herd, the mechanics can be a bit intimidating.

What kind of DNA sample is required to get the information I really want on my cattle?

On crime-solving television, DNA convicts criminals from just one strand of hair, a finger nail clipping, or some dried up blood off the back of a car bumper. Just like everything else in Hollywood, there’s a lot more that goes into DNA collection in the real world.

DNA samples need to be high-quality in order to get good lab results. If samples aren’t good enough, all you wind up with is a day of working cattle and a report that likely shows a high percentage of failed tests. Some of these “how to’s” could save you that heartache:

Basics for Better Blood Samples

Hello, my name is ______. Yes, it’s basic, but so important. Always start by labeling your collection cards with an identifying number for each animal. Generally a tag or tattoo number, you’ll need a sure way to match your test results back to the individual animals. 

 • ABC: Adequate Blood Collection– When samples go to the lab, they take a hole punch out of the saturated area. Sometimes multiple punches are needed to get the best results. Make sure you have enough blood on the card, but not so much that pooling occurs.

Too little blood vs. the ideal sample

• Manure is the enemy. Although fecal matter is used in other types of bovine tests, DNA sampling is not the place for it. Blood cards contaminated with manure are extremely difficult to get test results from. To decrease your fertilizer frustrations, consider taking blood samples from the ear instead of the tail. You may also want to make sure the ranch hand delegated to tailing isn’t also handling your DNA cards. 

Samples like this one would fail a DNA test due to the manure.

Keep it clean. Beyond manure, try to keep your collection cards away from dust or other contamination. I know what you’re thinking – how does one avoid dirt while working cattle? It’s not easy, but it’s worth the extra effort to ensure sample quality. If you’re bleeding from the ear, keep a rag on hand to wipe out ear wax or dirt before collection.

• This is not poker – don’t stack the deck. It’s very important to allow blood cards to dry thoroughly (24 hours, out of sunlight) before being stacked. Also, don’t mail samples in a sealed plastic bag. If blood coagulates on the card, sample quality may be compromised.

The GeneMax™ test kit is only $0.50 and includes your blood collection card and a sterile lancet.

*To order one of the above kits, visit

If blood collection isn’t the best fit for your operation, stay tuned tomorrow for part two for alternative DNA collection methods.

Check out this video or this flyer for more step by step directions on collecting a blood sample.


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On the ranch, On the road

From Bluegrass to Switchgrass to Not Enough Grass

Diversity Abounds

Yesterday I had the chance to return to my old college stomping ground of Lexington, KY to visit with the folks of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association. If you don’t have a personal tie to the bluegrass state, cattle probably aren’t the first four-legged critters that come to mind.

Horse racing fans know that tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes is the last leg of the Triple Crown. It’s been over 30 years since a horse has claimed the title, a streak that won’t be broken tomorrow due to the recent scratch of I’ll Have Another. It’s a sporting series that rivals the prestige of the Super Bowl and the World Series. Though the last chapter of the trifecta is written in New York, the Kentucky Derby is where it all starts.

The better part of my travels this year have taken me through the middle belt of the United States, from Montana to Texas. In most cases, horses are for stock and many of the towns have far more cattle than people. While Lexington is without question more of a concrete jungle than many of places I’ve been lately,  a couple hours of talking about cattle management in the bluegrass quickly reminded me of one of my favorite characteristics of the beef community – diversity.

One of my choice topics to discuss with cattlemen and women is, “How do you manage cattle in your part of the world?” A simple question with so many different answers.  In Kentucky, you might get responses alluding to modest herd sizes and cooperatives that allow multiple small breeders to combine cattle for more effective marketing. On a good year in the Ohio River Valley, pasture management is referenced in cows per acre, not acres per cow.

From the Waggoner Ranch just south of Vernon, Texas where cattle, crops and horses span over a half-million acres, to my family’s farm in southern Indiana where just over 800 acres sustains our cow herd, cattlemen everywhere have diverse ways of growing and marketing cattle to meet their needs.

From where you are today, you may need 20,000 acres or 200 acres to maintain your herd. Your family may be fully supported by cattle production or you may diversify in farming or other business.

No matter how you do things in your part of the world, always remember that you are never too large or small to get better, aim for quality, and do what you can to add more black ink to your bottom line.


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On the ranch, On the road

Show-Me what’s in those Genes!

Sometimes there’s more than what meets the eye. This week, the cattlemen and women of the Show-Me Select Replacement Heifer Program learned just that. Each year, this cooperative of elite commercial beef producers from Missouri embarks on a brief tour of other regional industry leaders in an effort to hone in on their skills of raising the best cattle.

Show-Me Select tour participants engaging in a little friendly competition


This was my first exposure to the folks from the Show-Me Select program so I was especially excited to catch up with the group before they headed into western Kansas for their feedlot and packing plant tours. We traveled just north of Manhattan to Fink Beef Genetics. Gary and I shared an overview of the new GeneMax™ program with each of the tour buses on the way out to the farm, but let’s face it – these guys are professionals at raising quality cattle. They needed a challenge!

And so the gauntlet was thrown. With these industry veterans, a judging contest seemed appropriate.

They had six heifers to evaluate that evening. Based on phenotype and some very limited sire EPD data, everyone was asked to assign their best guess of a GeneMax™ score to each heifer. As attendees unloaded the buses, we armed them with their limited tools and sent them around to the back of the barn to evaluate the heifers.

Lots of folks had great questions – everything from how we calculate scores to how they can use results to market their cattle. Some people even became a bit frustrated, claiming that based on the information we provided, the best they could do was to guess. Wait; is there a moral to the story here?

Debating, deliberating, studying…

We asked everyone to wrap up their answers and head back inside for a great dinner catered by Little Apple Brewery, a restaurant in Manhattan of which Finks are part owners. Sound familiar? There are good reasons why Little Apple Brewery is synonymous with great tasting beef, but that’s another story.

At the end of the night, we reviewed the GeneMax™ scores of our six competition heifers. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any surprised faces in the crowd. Out of more than 50 entries, only six people started the class with the actual highest scoring GeneMax™ heifer. Her half-sibling with the same sire data, however, scored nearly 40 points lower and was dead last.

The take home message is simple: with the information we have available, it is no longer enough to just make a gate cut on your replacement females based on phenotype and sire group. The tools we provided for this contest are not all that different from what many use today: visual characteristics and some sire data. GeneMax™ allows producers to go below the surface and select the best animals for grade and gain.

What about all that carcass and feed efficiency data you’ve been collecting on your cows for the last three years? Sure, those are great tools to have. But think of how many years of records you can catch up to by using a simple DNA test.

Many Missouri breeders left considering how they can put new genomic technology to work for them.  No doubt “show me” is no longer just the state motto, but also a genetic state of mind.


*Haven’t met me just yet? Well, let’s consider this our formal introduction:

Although I’ve been with CAB since 2009, I’m the newest member of the Black Ink team as a Supply Programs Manager.  

I’m the third generation to thrive from my family’s Angus farm near Orleans, Indiana, and am a proud alumni of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. I’m a gypsy at heart, yet my constant love for God, family and agriculture keep me grounded no matter where I am on the globe.”

I like my meat red, my cattle black and my basketball Kentucky blue!

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