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Cattle Selections Based on Genetic Merit

January 11, 2013
By: Sara Brown, Farm Journal Livestock and Production Editor
Selections Based on Genetic Merit

Let’s get down to brass tacks: genetics sell cattle. But will the numbers on paper materialize into the next great herd sire, or will you find years later that the bull didn’t live up to its promise?

Many cattlemen rely on EPD information to select bulls and heifers to improve their herd genetics. In just the last year, several cattle breed associations announced 50K genomic tests to help producers with animal selection. A 50K test uses more than 50,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms along the DNA strand to measure a variety of production, efficiency, yield and quality traits. The test can help explain genetic variation for traits, validate numbers, improve prediction accuracy and ultimately expand selection opportunities. And it’s evident that producers want more information about their cattle before they invest in an animal’s lineage.

No one appreciates the early information more than Mark Gardiner of Gardiner Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kan. Almost 10 years ago, the Gardiners started working with the American Angus Association, Pfizer Animal Health and Jerry Taylor, an animal scientist at the University of Missouri–Columbia, using DNA samples to develop a genetic information tool. In 2009, with a prototype in hand, the Gardiners chose to validate their elite population on the bull side.

"At that time, we did about 75 bulls and a couple hundred heifers," Gardiner says. "Now, we continue to DNA sample the top 15% of our elite young bull prospects to search for the bulls we believe should be validated, based on EPDs and ultrasound data and the top 40% of our females based upon all of the other data, in an effort to select the top 10% of our females and
multiply the best genetics via embryo transfer. All told, that makes 600 to 700 samples a year."

There is real value behind the numbers, he adds. The trick is to understand that genetic information is in addition to, not a replacement of, production data. At $75 per test, the Angus profile measures 18 traits.

"The 50K gives us a more accurate portrayal of the genotype of a trait," Gardiner says. "The reduced panel that we originally used was good for high-accuracy traits like carcass and growth. But it’s my belief that the less heritable traits are going to be much more important and accurate through the 50K."

In their own way. The American Hereford Association (AHA) released its first set of genomically enhanced EPDs this past summer with enhanced profiles on about 1,200 animals. "We are now working with GeneSeek to do all of our parentage testing as well as our genetic abnormality testing. They are also doing the runs for our 50K information that we use in the genomic-enhanced EPDs," says Jack Ward, chief operating officer.

Through the National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium, multiple breed associations have been working to develop an across-breed genetic panel. "We’ve participated in all the early projects, like most of the other breeds, and were able to collect a lot of samples from our genetic abnormality studies," Ward says. "However, the scientists found that today it was not going to work to make a panel that would work across breeds. These panels work in the populations they are developed in, but don’t work well across multiple breeds."

At about $85 per head, the Hereford test uses a 50K panel so the process of implementation will be easier as the industry moves to higher-density panels. "Even though the cost is a bit more, we feel that we are benefiting in the long run," he says.

"In fiscal year 2011, we doubled the number of cattle that had been DNA-tested, so I think our membership is very comfortable with the technology to make the genetic advancements in their cattle that they want," he adds. "That will be the main benefit to both our seedstock larger producers as well as smaller breeders."

"Genetic testing adds information to genetic evaluation for all of the production traits we measure," adds Wade Shafer, chief operating officer and director of performance programs for the American Simmental Association (ASA).

The $90 test, however, offers different amounts of information for traits and animals. "For example, on average, ASA’s test provides the equivalent of nine daughters to our prediction of stayability, while being comparable to only a single measure of backfat on an animal’s offspring. Further, for some animals our test will provide more than nine daughters’ worth of information for stayability, while providing less than nine for others," Shafer explains.

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FEATURED IN: Beef Today - January 2013

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