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Pfortmiller: DNA genotyping makes infinite progress, benefits small producers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The technological advances in DNA genotyping and how it relates to cattle production seem endless. Once producers measured traits traditionally, whether it was with a scale or a calendar, to determine average daily gain.

According to Rick Pfortmiller with Neogen/Geneseek, much more concise methods are now available.

“We’re 10 years into DNA genomic testing now,” he says.  “Fifteen years ago, testing a single gene was $65. For less than $65 today, we can test 100,000 genetic marker evaluations that are going into the calculations of an animal’s genomic makeup.”


As markets become more defined and the industry moves away from a commodity stream to a value-added marketing system, tools like DNA and genomic testing have become an invaluable resource for ranchers, Pfortmiller explains.

“We can look at the genetic potential that lies within an animal, and we can use that information to make breeding and genetic decisions, as well as management decisions,” Pfortmiller says. “When we talk about precision, that is what we see from the genomic side.”

The technology and the possibilities for what traits can be tested, seems infinite.

“They just released a genetic test to test dairy cattle for cholesterol,” he says.

Research has found if a dairy calf doesn’t have enough cholesterol present at birth, it will die. With this technology, managers can easily make nutritional changes for healthier offspring at birth.

Cattlemen can also use this technology to determine which bull sired a calf, explains Pfortmiller.

“For instance, if we have two bulls in a pasture, and next spring we get some calves we didn’t expect, for $10 to $15, we can find out which calves came out of which bull,” he says.

Association use

Pfortmiller tells producers that most of the breed associations are now processing and updating genomically enhanced expected progeny differences (EPDs) weekly.

“It is not uncommon for someone at a bull sale to open up their phone and look up the current EPDs for a bull they are considering,” he explains. “The EPDs have probably changed, maybe not dramatically, from what is listed in the printed sale catalog.”

The use of genomic data is even becoming available for the commercial cattlemen to help them evaluate many different traits.

“We are also developing a mobile app, so if producers are in a pen of commercial heifers, they can pull up their genetic results on their mobile phone,” he says.

Small producers

Some ranchers are skeptical of the new data age and see this technology being more useful to larger producers, but Pfortmiller says that simply isn’t true.

“With this technology, it also allows the smaller producer to gain the same advantage as the larger producer,” he says.

“On the seedstock side, with genomic data, producers can get a better indication of where that animal’s genetic potential lies,” he adds.

“The size of the operation isn’t always relevant,” Pfortmiller continues. “If a producer has two heifers and can only keep one, we can use genomic data to determine which one to keep.”

Genomic testing also allows ranchers to pull back the hide and look at the genetic code to make management decisions.

“One of the first genetic tests was for coat color,” he explains. “At one time, everyone wanted to make their cattle look like a Black Angus.”

“Today, producers can either do the test for a trait or use up time to decide if they made the right decisions. There is a value for time. What is important for producers is to evaluate these technologies, their risks and rewards,” Pfortmiller concludes.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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