It pays to profile

December 28, 2008 06:00 PM

Kevin DeHaan

The value of DNA technology lies in the ability to evaluate traits that are difficult or expensive to measure with traditional means. DNA technology gives producers access to inside information about their cattle's genetic potential for tenderness, fertility, stayability and docility, which until now were next to impossible to measure, especially early in the animal's life. With the availability of a comprehensive DNA profile, producers also can learn about economically important traits like carcass yield and quality and feed efficiency — all from a single DNA sample.

The best place to start is with herd sires and replacement heifers. The following are examples of the return producers can see by focusing on sires and replacement heifers that help make improvements in the herd average for these traits.

Focus on carcass traits to improve bottom line
When it comes to carcass traits, producers can use DNA technology to help add to their profitability in several ways — all starting with improving their genetics for these important traits. Table 1 shows an approximate economic value of each point in an IGENITY profile, based on U.S. industry averages and the assumptions listed below in the table.

Based on these data, the potential value of selecting a female whose genetics result in just a one-point improvement in her offspring would be $143.60. Under normal conditions, a female will have about eight offspring in her lifetime. If her progeny are just one point better than previous generations in each of these categories, they will result in almost $150 greater return per heifer if they are marketed based on carcass potential.

The same can be calculated for a bull. Given that a bull will sire an average of 80 calves in his lifetime, the potential value could equal $1,436. However, these numbers do not take into account the number of progeny that will be kept as replacements, which could multiply these improvements indefinitely throughout the herd.

Improving female reproductive traits can mean big returns
Genetic improvement in female reproductive traits has been shown to have a greater impact on profitability than any other class of traits at the cow/calf level of the beef industry. While traits like stayability and heifer fertility are an important consideration to long-term profits, they can only be measured with DNA technology in the IGENITY profile.

In recent years, researchers have calculated values for a single unit-improvement in stayability and heifer pregnancy expected progeny difference (EPDs) for a sire in a 1,000-cow herd. Table 2 shows how this research translates to a score for stayability on the IGENITY profile; Table 3 does the same for heifer pregnancy rate.

Introducing a bull that helps improve the herd average for stayability just one point from the IGENITY profile could return $102.90 to the bottom line in just one year — or $411.60 during a typical four-year sire career in the herd. However, if the herd's average for stayability is currently less than 60 percent, artificial insemination (AI) is used to extend the impact over more than 30 cows, or heifers are profiled also to help make strategic mating decisions for this trait — the return on selecting for stayability could multiply exponentially in a short amount of time.

Similar to stayability, improving the herd average for heifer pregnancy rate just one point from the IGENITY profile could return $63.00 to the bottom line in just one year — or $252.00 over a typical four-year sire career in the herd. If the herd's average pregnancy rate is currently less than 60 percent, AI is used to extend the impact over more than 30 females, or heifers are profiled to help make strategic mating decisions for this trait — the return for selecting for improved heifer pregnancy rate could multiply exponentially in a short amount of time.

Make progress faster by learning where genetics are now
These calculations help understand the value of improving a herd's genetics for these economically important traits. However, these examples only illustrate the advantage of moving one point on the IGENITY scale. It is possible to move more than one point, but producers must know where their herd's genetics are currently before they can make progress. If producers don't know their females' scores for these traits, how will they know if a particular sire will actually help make genetic progress? That is why it is important to profile both bulls and females to help make strategic mating decisions.

In addition to learning about each animal's genetic potential, producers can choose to take advantage of other options, such as parentage identification, diagnostic testing for persistent infections (PI) of the bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus and applying radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. These options give producers a convenient opportunity to add value to cattle in ways in addition to gaining inside information about their genetic potential.

DNA technology gives producers the ability to evaluate traits of economic importance that were previously difficult or impossible to measure, especially in young animals. The opportunities are endless for producers looking to improve their herd's genetics with DNA technology. However, to benefit from these opportunities, producers must be sure they are choosing a DNA profile that includes analyses for more than a dozen economically important traits.

Dr. Kevin DeHaan is the technical services director for IGENITY. For more information, visit or call 1-877-IGENITY.


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