Genetic tools reducing risk for cattle producers
March 8, 2019
International Genetic Solutions is a collaboration between 12 breed associations to provide genetic evaluation to the commercial cattleman through a database of about 17 million animals with 400,000 added annually.
IGS utilizes BOLT EPDs, calculated using the single-step, super-hybrid model that Mahdi Saatchi, lead genomicist, International Genetic Solution, said during a webinar on genetic selection tools, is more accurate than Cornell EPDs. Cornell EPDs, calculated with the progeny performance of non-genotyped sires, are more accurate due to the inclusion of DNA.
The American Hereford Association is one of the breed associations utilizing this method of calculating EPDs for 17 traits to determine three profit indexes, incorporating pedigree, phenotypic and genomic profiles of each animal. Shane Bedwell, COO and director of breed improvement, American Hereford Association, said using the BOLT EPDs is advantageous to all producers.
"We're basically incorporating that genomic component of those animals that are genotyped and using that subset of markers from the 50,000 that come on the marker set directly into the genetic evaluation and they are weighted according to their influence for the respective traits," Bedwell said. "It's all fitting and blending nicely with the pedigree and individual phenotypic information that comes into the genetic evaluation."
Information, Bedwell said, is updated weekly, allowing commercial and seedstock producers to access the most relevant and up-to-date information. Going a step further and purchasing genomic enhanced bulls adds value, confidence, and accelerates genetic advancement. In addition to adding an animal's genomic information into the EPD profile, parentage is verified, ensuring prediction accuracy.
Index selection can also benefit commercial producers through simplification of sire selection. Bedwell said this method utilizes the most economically relevant traits and weights them based on the production scenario and then indicates profit in that scenario given a selected set of sires. Economically relevant traits affect cost or profit, he said, after determining breeding objectives and/or marketing goals and the strengths and weaknesses of the operation.
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"For some operators, there's no doubt that environment can constrain or dictate potential level of performance," he said. "Using these selection indexes and maybe gearing down on milk production in a drought scenario or adding more calving ease with a selection index is something that may fit you."
Bedwell said that breed associations as a whole have progressed from the basic traits of birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, and milk to add more economically relevant traits to the suite of EPDs. This has been accomplished through phenotypic and genomic information on more difficult to measure traits like dry matter intake, sustained cow fertility and stayability.
Bedwell offered the example of a new versus old Baldy Maternal Index (BMI) comparison in a scenario utilizing Hereford bulls on mature Angus cows. In this scenario, daughters are retained in the herd and cull heifers and steers are fed and marketed on a grid. The component traits to make up the index are both maternal and terminal indexes. The previous BMI formula didn't utilize some of the traits now available but depended upon calving ease, weaning and yearling weights, milk, calving ease maternal, scrotal circumference, back fat, ribeye area and marbling. The new BMI as of 2017 instead utilizes calving ease, weaning weight, average daily gain, milk, calving ease maternal, dry matter intake, mature cow weight, carcass weight, back fat, ribeye area, marbling and sustained cow fertility. This blending of traditional and new, weighted EPDs offers a more accurate and more targeted picture for producers.
"Breed improvement and advancement of the breed is not always the same as profit index goals for the commercial industry so as seedstock producers, you may need to improve upon one trait that doesn't make up one weighted trait in these indexes," he said.
Tommy Perkins, CEO, Genetic Performance Solutions, represents the International Brangus Breeders Association. The association began testing cattle in 2013 for Developmental Duplication, the genetic condition that impacted the Brangus breed. This time frame signaled about a $150,000 increase in genomic testing across the breed. The increased genomic testing also identified about 10 percent misidentified parentage.
"As a commercial cattleman, you're buying these seedstock bulls to put on your cows and this improvement of lowering that parent misidentification has improved the genetic tools available," Perkins said.
As technology has improved, he said, the expense of the testing has decreased, allowing more seedstock producers to utilize it. It has also improved the accuracy of unproven bulls to 18 to 25 progeny equivalents, depending on the trait. Perkins said this is crucial for commercial cattlemen who are purchasing young bulls.
"That's really big when we talk about commercial cattlemen putting a lot of stock into unproven bulls," he said. "If you can move that accuracy … without those bulls producing progeny, I think it makes your job much easier to more accurately identify those bulls who will really go on and work for you and produce progeny that fit your bottom dollar,"
Kelli Retallick, genetic service director, Angus Genetics, Inc., said the bottom line for producers is that genomics are a risk reduction tool.
Since 2015, Angus Genetics has been collecting data on foot structure as claw set and foot angle with an anticipated EPD release in June of 2019. The data set has already been the subject of two research papers.
"Even with all of this great genomic information, we're not setting aside these fundamental traits that are so important to the cattle industry," she said. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.