Multi trait genetic evaluation: No longer just for purebred and seedstock operations

Commercial cattle producers can use the multi trait genetic testing to inform decisions regarding replacement selection with tremendous amounts of data boiled down into indexes.
Courtesy graphic.

Jason Osterstock, DMV, PhD, vice president of Zoetis and the global head for the genetics portion of the business, said ensuring each animal U.S. agriculture grows must reach it’s full genetic potential in order to sustainably and responsibly feed a hungry world.

It is by applying genetics and data to commercial operations, he said, so more high-quality beef can be produced.

To this end, Zoetis Genetics has released INHERIT Select, a genetic test borne of a combination of genomic technologies and advancements. The multi-breed genomic test provides predictions for commercial females and, in turn, those predictions provide genetic insights to improved replacement selection and improved breeding decisions.

Dr. Kent Andersen, Zoetis’ director of global beef genetics, is active on his family’s Nebraska cow calf operation though he and his family live in Colorado. Andersen said replacement costs to raise a heifer to the day she has her first calf are second only to feed costs on most operations. Through identification of heifers that express greater lifetime efficiency of production, he said the herd can be frontloaded efficiently.

“There’s things behind the scenes that might be economically relevant that I might be overlooking,” he said. “Hence, I’m likely selling some I should have otherwise kept and vice versa, keeping some I should have otherwise culled.”

Andersen said choosing based on which female will be the most productive over her lifetime includes optimum mature cow size and milk production level, teat and udder quality, growth relative to sensible birth weight and, post weaning, which females will produce progeny that will convert most efficiently and produce carcasses that bring the largest premiums. While he said visual appraisal and good cowboy common sense ought not be abandoned, INHERIT can offer a look into those traits that are economically relevant.

The test, which requires an Allflex tissue sampling unit, or an ear punch, is a multibreed genetic evaluation that is designed specifically for commercial cow calf producers running a crossbreeding program. The samples should be collected on any commercial female that meet the visual criteria to be considered as a replacement. It is not, Andersen said, a way to enable commercial producers to breed and keep purebred bulls, and only data on females will be reported. INHERIT Connect, a companion product, enables bull batteries to be tested to allow for parentage determination of the daughters.

Previously, Andersen said, only purebred seedstock producers have had access to genetic evaluation. This test provides predictions for 16 traits, and while there is a tremendous amount of information available, producers are provided Zoetis Indexes to summarize the complex data into a few summaries. The Zoetis Cow Calf Index is designed for producers who sell their calves at weaning, the Zoetis Feedlot Carcass Index ranks animals based on combined genetic merit post-weaning including gain, dry matter intake, carcass weight and grade, and the Zoetis Total Return Index is an economic index that ranks animals for genetic merit across all evaluated traits.

“With that one number you can access the ranking of animals from the expected net return perspective for all the evaluated traits,” he said.

Genomic approximation of breed composition is also available by taking the marker information and returning a percentage of Angus or Red Angus, British (South Devon and Hereford), or Continental (Simmental, Gelbvieh, Limousin and Charolais) breeds. Other breeds that would show as unknown breed composition include Indicus, dairy and Wagyu. As far as beef on dairy calves, an Angus/Holstein cross calf could certainly be tested for authentication of breed composition but if they are over 25 percent unknown breed, the efficacy of the predictions would be compromised. In the future, Andersen said he looks toward growth and carcass information being added for beef on dairy crosses.

The bottom line, he said, is the tool can identify the strengths and weaknesses of a cowherd to improve bull selection in the future based on where emphasis ought to be placed.

“It’s good then for a lifetime of mating decisions, particularly for cow calf customers using synchronization and AI on their heifers and maybe even in their cows,” he said. “We know most of them turn out multiple sires and multiple breeding pastures. It enables more strategic thinking to get bulls matched with females to accentuate and complement the strengths but then to correct any weaknesses.”

Marketing is another area that can benefit from the tool. Producers who sell replacement baldie females can authenticate the merit of the animals at time of sale and, he said, although the test is for females, it would provide information about the steer mates, offering ammunition to use in the negotiation of selling cattle.

Results are available in a spreadsheet and also in an online tool called Search Point, an online cow calf management tool that comes with the purchase of the tests. Tests are run weekly, so results are updated weekly as additional information is added from the company’s seedstock partners to expand ranking and benchmarking. Additional features may also be added, including a PAP EPD for high altitude cattle. ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at or (970) 768-0024.


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