Meeting addresses tech, genetic program building |

Meeting addresses tech, genetic program building

Amanda Radke
for Tri-State Livestock News
“The result of the animal’s phenotype is the genotype plus the environment." – Joe Cassady, SDSU. Photo by Amanda Radke

Technology has provided produces with more tools than they are even aware of. Educating about those tools and how they can make a difference in the day-to-day business of cattle production is a priority for South Dakota State University. One way they’ve started that process is through conferences, like the Building a Genetic Program Through the Use of Reproductive Technologies Conference in Mitchell, S.D. last month.

The meeting aimed to provide information to cow-calf producers on cutting-edge genetic management tools, such as synchronization, heifer development, artificial insemination and embryo transfer for their breeding programs.

“Pioneer cattlemen, who once formed the foundation of this country’s cattle industry, might be humbled by the landscape of genetic progress that has influenced today’s breeding programs,” said Jim Krantz, SDSU Extension cow-calf field specialist, who helped organize the conference. “While they molded their management systems based on observed performance and phenotype, today’s programs are guided by genomics and reproductive technologies.”

Kicking off the meeting was Joe Cassady, SDSU Animal Science Department head, with his presentation, “Adapting Genetic Technologies for a Focused Genetic Program.”

He said one of the mistakes cattlemen make is choosing a bull to breed their cows to that they think is a great bull, but they don’t necessarily take into consideration if that great bull is what their cow herd needs.

“Before making a breeding decision, it’s important to discuss which animals will be the best parents and not necessarily which animals are the best individuals,” he said. “There is a difference. The best beef animal is one that will be both economically and biologically efficient at converting feedstuffs to protein for human consumption.”

Cassady explained the difference between the phenotype—what is observed in the animal, such as weaning weight, birth weight, structure, etc.— and the result of that animal’s phenotype, which is much more important when it comes to determining a rancher’s profitability on that animal

“The result of the animal’s phenotype is the genotype plus the environment,” he said. “We want to provide the best nutrition and health care for our livestock, which is good animal husbandry. The purpose of providing an idealized environment is to allow these animals to express their best genetic potential. If you provide them the greatest environment in the world, but they don’t have the genetic potential to grow 4 lbs./day, they simply won’t be able to gain that much. However, if they do have that genetic potential, but you don’t provide them the environment to thrive, then they may only gain 2 lbs./day.”

In a nutshell, genotypic value is the effect of individual genetics, singly and as a combination with the animal’s parentage. Cassady said Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) are a good place to start when considering buying an animal.

“EPDs are equal to half the breeding value because the parents only pass on a sample half,” he said. “Always be sure to compare the EPD information to the data of the current year. Comparing a great bull’s EPDs from 20 years ago to today’s standards might make that great bull from 20 years ago to just average or even below average.”

Cassady used this example to show breeders the profitability differences of two different bulls:

“How much more should you pay?” he asked. “If a bull has a +52 weaning weight EPD (WW) verses a bull with +42 WW, that will result in 10 lbs. difference in each calf and $500/year difference if that bull sires 25 calves/year. Bull B might be the cheaper bull, but he isn’t the least cost bull overtime. It pays to invest in the higher EPD bull.”

Another data set to consider when purchasing a bull or choosing a sire to artificially breed cows to is genomic information. For example, the HD50K test costs $75 and evaluates 50,000 DNA markers spread across the entire bovine genome.

“Test results of the HD50K test are incorporated into the estimation of EPDs,” Cassady said. “This data can help us make predictions on the animals that don’t have progeny yet. To try to make things easier for producers, we have moved to looking at economic selection indexes. Some breeds have 20 different traits to evaluate, which can be difficult to mull over at a fast-paced bull sale. For example, the American Angus Association has looked at things like the feedlot value and beef value. The Hereford breed has the Baldy Index and Certified Hereford Beef Index. Several breeds, including Angus and Charolais, also allow producers to make a customized index to help select bulls.”

Combining both genomic data and EPDs is another option offered by many breeds.

“Angus, Simmental, Red Angus and Hereford now have genomic-enhanced EPDs, with many other breeds in the process of getting that done,” he said.

“Another tool to utilize comes from Zoetis,” he said. “The company has released some tools to help commercial producers purchase their bulls such as the GMX Focus, which costs $17/head to run. This offers genomic predictions for feedlot gain (GMX Gain), carcass quality grade (GMX Marbling), and combined genetic merit for gain and grade (GMX Score). The Cow Advantage focuses on more maternal traits, and the Feeder Advantage focuses on the finishing phase. Combined, you can look at the total Advantage score. The market this is focused on is for commercial herds that are predominantly Angus-based, to help make decisions for keeping replacement heifers. The GENEMAX Advantage report looks at the average Advantage Score of 50, with a score of 75 vs. 25 = $50/calf difference.”

It can be daunting to sort through the countless data sets offered at bull sales and in semen catalogs, but as ranchers make decisions for the summer breeding season, it’s important not to overlook the factors that will increase profitability by improving the potential of the next calf crop.

“My intention is to make producers more aware of options as they become available,” Cassady said. “Right now, these are the only genomic products that are aimed at helping commercial producers, and each offers its own benefits for consideration.”