Braunvieh Performance on the Rail: Genetics for an increased ribeye area
October 9, 2018
Braunvieh breeders know firsthand that Braunvieh-influenced cattle deliver on a host of profit drivers such as fertility, docility, feed efficiency and carcass merit. The breed has developed an especially sound reputation for carcass merit dating back to the 1980s when they first entered the United States and won repeated carcass contests.
Today, it is commonplace for Braunvieh-sired steers to be sorted to the top of carcass contests all around the country, including tests such as the Great Western Beef Expo in Sterling, Colo.; Beef Empire Days in Garden City, Kan.; and the Texas A&M Ranch to Rail Program.
Carcass merit is one of the breed's key characteristics. It is steadily gaining distinction and added marketability under a number of grid programs.
In a three-year research project and carcass evaluation at Louisiana State University (LSU), Braunvieh genetics were put to the test as part of a crossbreeding system to evaluate carcass trait performance. Matthew Garcia, Ph.D., geneticist at Utah State University, utilized Braunvieh, Simmental and Charolais bulls on LSU's tropically adapted cowherd to evaluate their carcass traits at harvest and determine candidate genes for growth, performance and carcass traits.
“We found that the Braunvieh-sired calves had genetic mutations very similar to the Charolais, Angus and Simmental when it came to birth weight and weaning weight. When we started looking at the carcass side of things, marbling was similar, but the ribeye on the Braunvieh-sired calves was statistically very different from the other breeds. We started looking at the raw DNA. We found that Braunvieh had a different set of genetic mutations on the markers for ribeye area that was really driving that ribeye size.”Matthew Garcia, Ph.D., geneticist at Utah State University
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Garcia is no stranger to carcass genetics. He started his carcass genetics research during his postdoctoral work at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, Neb. "While I was at MARC, my main focus was trying to correlate genetics with carcass quality and yield," Garcia says. "I was working with the GP-8 population, which was the tropically adapted Bos taurus cow group that was later used for the research at LSU."
Garcia arrived at LSU to find a major issue with bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in a group of Angus-sired calves out of the Bos taurus F-1 cows he had worked with at MARC. As a result of the BRD, carcass quality greatly suffered.
"My thought was, how can I look at this from an applied standpoint and improve our productivity in the feedlot, and improve our disease resistance without sacrificing carcass quality and feed efficiency?" Garcia explains.
"At the time, I wasn't familiar with Braunvieh cattle, but my herdsman at LSU had a group of cows that he was using Braunvieh bulls on. He would send his steer calves along with ours to the feedyard to make a load. His Braunvieh-sired calves always made it through the feedlot process. They always graded high Choice, and their feed efficiency was great. Those Braunvieh-sired calves were just blowing our university cattle out of the water."
Watching the successes of these Braunvieh-sired calves piqued Garcia's interest. "I started asking about these Braunvieh bulls and wanted to utilize them not only to see success at the feedyard but also to better our cowherd to generate some females to keep in the university system," Garcia says. "So, we began using some Braunvieh bulls alongside Simmental, Charolais and Angus bulls in this research project.
"The university herd had a conception rate that had been about 65 to 70 percent, which wasn't great," he says. "The first year this crossbreeding project was done, the conception rate was 92 percent. The first major difference we saw was in weaning weights. Traditionally weaning weights had been about 550 to 575 pounds. The first year that we incorporated these three new breeds – Braunvieh, Simmental and Charolais – our weaning weights went up to 615 pounds.
"The weaning weights between the three breeds were not significantly different. Hip heights between the breeds, though, were significantly different," Garcia explains. "The Braunvieh breed didn't have that huge frame that the Charolais and the Simmentals did, but the weaning weights were the same. The Braunvieh were compacting that muscle mass that onto a more moderate frame."
Cattlemen and producers became interested. They loved the Braunvieh calves on hoof but were curious what they were going to look like when it came time to evaluate underneath the hide.
"When it came time to look at the carcass quality on these Braunvieh-, Simmental- and Charolais-sired calves, we sent some Angus-sired calves along, as well, as a control group, knowing that the Angus-sired calves out of the crossbred cowherd had typically been about 50 to 55 percent Choice. When we got our carcass data back, we were almost 80 percent Choice on the Braunvieh-, Simmental- and Charolais-sired calves, and there was no significant difference between marbling score or quality grade between the Braunvieh, Simmental, Charolais as compared to the Angus-sired calves," Garcia says.
"The most notable difference we found was that the Braunvieh calves had a significantly bigger ribeye than all of the breeds combined, to the note of five square inches larger."
This difference in ribeye area generated more interest for Garcia as a geneticist. "I wanted to see what mutations these Braunvieh-sired calves had that were making them different," Garcia explains. "We found that the Braunvieh-sired calves had genetic mutations very similar to the Charolais, Angus and Simmental when it came to birth weight and weaning weight.
"When we started looking at the carcass side of things, marbling was similar, but the ribeye on the Braunvieh-sired calves was statistically very different from the other breeds. We started looking at the raw DNA. We found that Braunvieh had a different set of genetic mutations on the markers for ribeye area that was really driving that ribeye size.
"The Braunvieh brought some very good DNA markers into the mix, partially thanks to the hybrid vigor and crossbreeding, but also just in part to bringing in those Braunvieh genetics."
Armed with these statistical advantages, the Braunvieh breed has once again proven itself as a viable crossbreeding option in modern American beef producers' quest for carcass premiums.
– Braunvieh Association of America