by: Heather Smith Thomas

Lex Carter (Director of Beef Marketing, Accelerated Genetics) says that AI is becoming a more widespread tool in the beef industry today, enabling producers to take advantage of the most current and desirable genetics for their herds. With the newest technology in genetic information, this gives us another tool for making the best informed selection for breeding stock.

“One of the newest things is the use of DNA, putting genomic information into bull proofs. This was started in the dairy industry, in January 2009. In the beef industry the American Angus Association was the first to utilize DNA information. They started incorporating this into their EPDs in the spring Sire Summary of 2010. Breeders can send a DNA sample to either Igenity or Pfizer. Both companies are doing DNA profiles. I think this is a big step forward for the beef AI industry,” he says. The dairy industry started using DNA in bull selection criteria about four years ago.

“It gives us an opportunity to take a young bull that has no progeny yet and have higher predictability of what that bull will do when he does have progeny,” explains Carter. Otherwise people may be reluctant to use a young, unproven bull.

“The only thing we had previously to help in this selection process was parentage information and the bull's own performance record. With the animal model, considering every other animal in the family (several generations of ancestors and relatives), you could look at the performance of sires and uncles, etc. This would give an idea, but the DNA just gives you a little more reliability. It's not all-inclusive but it does add one more piece for figuring out the puzzle and helps us better predict where a young bull might land, when he does have progeny,” says Carter.

For example, if we look at the EPD for birthweight in attempting to select a bull for use on heifers, the only predictor we had is the bull's own actual birthweight and his EPDs, which were based on parentage information—what his parents and ancestors were on birthweight and calving ease data.

“Basically it was a combination of actual phenotypic data (the bull's own birthweight) and the family/pedigree information that came through that bull's EPD (such as birthweight, and calving ease direct). With all this information we might predict that a certain bull might sire calves with a birthweight of x. Now, however, if we do a DNA profile on that bull, or if his sire or other members of the family have been DNA profiled, we have that DNA information as well and can plug that into the EPD equation. It's just one more thing we can use, to try to predict where that bull's calves' birthweight will be, and the calving ease of the heifers he'll be bred to,” explains Carter.

“In the dairy industry there is so much information on young bulls (so many of the bull's ancestors have been profiled) that a young bull could have a reliability as high as 75 percent -- which would be equivalent to that of a sire that already had 30 or 40 daughters in milk production. We are getting to the point that we can very accurately predict what that young dairy bull's daughters will produce,” he says.

“We're not nearly as high in predictability yet on the beef side, but I could take an ET (embryo transfer) calf, which normally would have an accuracy prediction of 0.05 (because he doesn't have a contemporary group to be compared with) and now, with a genetic profile, could have an accuracy of 0.4 which is a big difference. We can much more accurately predict what that young bull will do.”

This kind of accuracy prediction will progress as research discovers more and more genetic markers. “We will continue to see that number go up. Five or ten years from now we might have a young bull that would have an accuracy of 0.7 which would be the equivalent of a bull that maybe had 60 calves in two herds. So this is definitely a great tool. I don't think they have all the bugs out of it yet; they continue to tweak this, but little by little it will improve, over time. They had to start somewhere in this kind of genetic research, and I am sure we will see great progress over the next 5 to 10 years. This will be a good tool for predicting the genetics of different bulls,” he says.

Currently the American Angus Association is the only breed incorporating genomic information into EPDs, but there is talk among other breeds, like Simmental and Red Angus about doing this. “I think we will soon see other breed associations utilize this DNA information.”

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