DNA technology – The next generation of management tools
EPDs, ultrasound measurements and having a good eye for cattle have long been valuable selection tools. Now, DNA technology is taking selection to the next level, helping cattle producers make genetic progress faster, and more confidently, than ever before, says Dr. Kevin DeHaan, Technical Services Director, IGENITY.
“DNA profiling provides information on many economically important traits not covered by EPDs, filling some significant gaps in the selection process,” Dr. DeHaan explains. “A DNA profile also gives producers and managers a more complete picture of potential performance earlier in an animal’s life.”
Bob Harriman and John Rotert, partners in Rotert/Harriman Bulls of Montrose, MO, understand the payoffs of profiling.
“In cattle breeding, it’s often trial and error and it takes a few years to pin down a problem and its cause,” Rotert says. “With DNA profiling, you can identify problems sooner and speed up the generation interval.”
Harriman adds that weaving DNA technology into their current management plan will benefit their customers and the beef industry. Harriman and Rotert produce and sell Angus, Simmental/Angus and Balancer seedstock through cooperator herds.
They’ve incorporated the comprehensive IGENITY profile into their management and marketing plans, by profiling the bulls they are selling and using only DNA-profiled AI sires. They also intend to start profiling their replacement heifers and their top young cows soon.
“We’re interested in getting all the information we can to select and breed for the kind of cattle that will take all segments of the beef industry to their targets,” Harriman says. “Combining DNA profiling with EPDs helps us move toward achieving that goal.”
Dr. DeHaan agrees, noting that DNA profiling should not be a producer’s only information source.
“When seedstock producers like Bob and John present DNA profiles alongside EPDs and performance data, they help their customers make a more informed purchasing decision,” he says. “That knowledge filters down to better breeding, management and selection decisions that can improve the quality of a herd and, in time, a breed.”
What a DNA profile offers
With all the selection tools available, a producer may ask: What does DNA profiling offer me that I’m not getting already? The IGENITY profile provides inside information about traits that are hard to measure by traditional methods, such as tenderness, says Dr. DeHaan. Plus, he continues, a DNA profile can offer information early in an animal’s life that can’t be measured until much later, or even until after harvest, by traditional methods.
“The measurement of tenderness has perplexed the beef industry for decades,” he says. “With DNA technology, we can measure an important trait affordably, allowing producers to breed and select for that trait, ultimately producing a more consistent beef product.”
And Rotert believes that can benefit the entire production chain.
“If we can sell bulls that we know have certain traits, producers can sell with confidence and feedyards can buy with confidence,” Rotert says.
Rotert/Harriman bull buyers seem to agree. One bull Rotert/Harriman profiled had the top score for tenderness and also topped the annual bull sale – bringing $1,000 more than the other bulls.
Harriman notes that the buyer feeds his own calves and they are earmarked for a branded beef program, so a top tenderness score along with the other carcass information was very important to him. In addition to tenderness potential, the comprehensive profile includes DNA analyses for fat thickness, ribeye area, yield grade, hot carcass weight, quality grade, marbling and breed-specific horned/polled, along with parentage in multiple-sire settings and a diagnostic test for identifying cattle persistently infected with bovine viral diarrhea (BVD-PI).
“We saw the need for DNA profiling and believe that it will continue to improve and become a standard practice,” Harriman notes. “We like to be prepared to meet industry demands, so we’re taking advantage of the technology now.”
Dr. DeHaan says Rotert/Harriman Bulls is a good example of how DNA technology, when used in conjunction with other tools, can help the industry progress.