eBEEF.org makes research findings available to producers  | TSLN.com

eBEEF.org makes research findings available to producers 

Most of the team was on hand to receive the Ambassador Award from BIF in 2021. Left to right, Alison Van Eenennaam, Matt Spangler, Darrh Bullock, Jared Decker and Bob Weaber (not pictured Megan Rolf and Troy Rowan). | Photo courtesy of Darrh Bullock.

Academic institutions spend a lot of time and money on studies that producers can use to improve their businesses. But getting that information from academia to producers was something of a problem. 

That’s where eBEEF comes in.  

The website dedicated to beef cattle genetics was launched at the 2015 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) Conference as part of the national eXtension program, with the goal of being a one-stop site for beef cattle genetics and genomics information. Beef cattle specialists from six land grant institutions joined forces to provide educational materials pertinent to today’s beef cattle producers, so they don’t have to search multiple sites. The eBEEF.org site contains factsheets, short frequently asked questions (FAQ), video clips, relevant conference recordings and webinars, a blog, e-newsletter, and links to other useful beef sites. 

Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, University of California – Davis, says this internet resource was put together by a team from several universities to compile information of interest to people interested in beef cattle selection. “The stimulus for doing this was because there were fewer and fewer Extension specialists across the nation, when the six of us came up with this idea. We’d seen each other at BIF meetings and knew each other and decided to compile our resources into one location,” she says. 

The six people who put together eBEEF were Darrh Bullock, Alison Van Eenannaam, Matt Spangler, Bob Weaber, Jared Decker and Megan Rolf. Troy Rowan since replaced Bob Weaber in the group. 

Van Eenennaam said one of the purposes was to provide resources to people involved in producer education, who aren’t necessarily experts in all fields. “Some of the seminars with the NBCEC (National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium) have been intended to ‘train the trainer’ and we’d give seminars with the idea that non-genetics beef specialists and county agents could learn more and present the information to their own clientele at local county meetings.” 

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) also incorporates eBEEF into producer education efforts that pertain to beef cattle genetics. Collaborations include invited presentations at the annual Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show’s Cattlemen’s College, appearances on NCBA’s Cattlemen to Cattlemen television program, and presentations on national webinars hosted by NCBA. 

When eBEEF was launched, there were several large USDA integrated grants for research on bovine respiratory disease, female fertility and feed efficiency that were nearing an end, and researchers needed a common platform for delivering their study findings to producers. “We wanted to compile information on those projects on one site,” says Van Eenennaam. 

Dr. Darrh Bullock, beef cattle extension specialist, University of Kentucky, says that when the group decided to launch eBEEF, the number of Animal Science Departments across the country had been shrinking and the genetics part was shrinking even faster. “We’ve also had to share some ground (on the quantitative genetics side of things) with the molecular side. There are not very many people who have a lot of good quantitative genetic selection practices and knowledge who are still within the academic section. The few of us remaining decided to consolidate our efforts, and came up with the eBEEF process,” he says. 

“We have a mix of molecular and quantitative geneticists in our group; we bring a shared perspective and try to look at things in a holistic, realistic approach. There’s no lack of information; we are making advancements all the time with the tools available for producers to help them do a better job, but the pool of Extension geneticists is becoming very small.” It’s not as easy to get these tools into the hands of producers and appropriately applied. 

“With eBEEF we want to bring the things that have been developed—the tools that we have—to producers to use in an appropriate way, in a user-friendly format. We don’t throw a lot of heavy science at folks. Our approach is to figure out how to explain something in a manner that will result in the greatest uptake,” says Bullock. 

“Originally we set it up under the auspices of eXtension, which was Extension’s attempt to provide internet information,” says Van Eenannaam. The eXtension website was a national extension effort utilizing voluntary input from Extension specialists and educators to create and deliver content through the website. The six eBEEF specialists provided content through the Beef Genetics and Genomics Community of Practice. “Unfortunately, internet search engines don’t differentiate between capital letters and lower case letters, and the eXtension website didn’t ever take off in the same way other internet outlets have,” says Van Eenannaam. “So the eXtension was discontinued in 2020, and we now manage the site ourselves; the eBEEF website was moved to the University of California-Davis site that I manage.”  

“Producers can get information on what an EPD is, what a genomic test is, the genetics of coat colors, etc. Ironically, the most popular topic has been coat color,” says Van Eenannaam. “We designed fact sheets so they could be used in Extension meetings. There is a PDF online; people can print it out and give it to people who don’t have access to on-line material—such as handouts at producer meetings,” she says. 

“One of the helpful things on the website is the sire selection manual,” says Van Eenannaam. “This was the genesis of the NBCEC, which was originally funded about 20 years ago. This was where the six of us got to know each other and got the idea for the website. That manual is now in its third edition, which came out last year. It’s all on our website and a person can look at individual chapters. It covers everything from sire selection to genetic principles.”  

The Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) gives an Ambassador award each year for efforts in extending the news of BIF and its principles to a larger audience, and this award was given to eBEEF in 2021.  

There are currently 32 factsheets posted on the website under four categories: Beef Cattle Selection, Use of DNA Information, Simple (single gene) Traits, and New Technologies. Three new factsheets were posted in 2021. There are also 165 videos, 18 train-the-trainer webinar series, 5 producer education webinars, etc. 

In 2017 the top three factsheets were “Color patterns in crossbred beef cattle,” “The genetics of horned, polled and scurred cattle” and “How to get started with DNA testing.” The videos range from technical content and long (over 1 hour), to short, concise pieces of “how to” information. 

“We try to keep everything on eBEEF current,” says Bullock. “We made a lot of progress very quickly in the beginning. We jumped on it and got a lot of information out there. As with most things, once you get a foundation laid, you just add things that come along later. We don’t add new things as often as we used to, but if something new comes along we try to get that information out.” 

They also recognize that different audiences want information in different formats. “We use fact sheets for people who have a little time and want to get more in-depth, but we’ve also put together short videos that appeal to some of the younger crowd, to get a quick synopsis. If they like what they hear, they can read the fact sheets and get more information,” he says. 

The group tries to meet on a regular basis. “Not all scientists agree on everything all the time,” Bullock says. “If issues come up and some people in the group take different approaches, we try to work it out and present a consistent message. If one person says, ‘This is how you need to use this tool,’ and another gives a different perspective, it simply adds confusion. We try to get this sorted out behind the door and then come forward with a consistent message.” 

Everything is presented in a non-biased way. “Sometimes interpretation of a certain tool is left up to the company that gains financially from it. We try to have an independent approach so we are not promoting one company or one breed over another,” says Bullock. “We try to make all information as user-friendly as we can, and if anyone has suggestions we look for that, as well.”