Selecting the top: DNA testing may be useful, economical for female selection in commercial herds
Casper – “Everything starts with a bull, right? That’s our genetic driver,” said Austin Buzanowski of Zoetis Animal Genetics.
As a way to improve accuracy of expected progeny differences (EPDs) and increase the amount of information producers have about their animals, Zoetis uses a DNA test called the i50K test for Angus cattle.
“That way, when we look at a bull, what we see there in the pen and what we see on paper is what we’re going to get when we get home,” he continued.
In addition to being useful in sire selection, Buzanowski discussed the practicality and benefits of using DNA testing for female selection in commercial herds.
While focusing on bulls in the breeding program, Buzanowski suggested producers pay special consideration to their females to optimize genetic performance.
“We’re using those really good bulls to bring genetics into our herd,” he said. “The genetics going back into the herd are from the female. We need her to be able to work for us, as well.”
Traditionally, producers decide whether to keep or cull females phenotypically and based on her dam’s performance.
“How many times has that female that we thought was going to be a good one turned out to not be as good as we hoped?,” commented Buzanowski.
He continued, “We’ve now brought the i50K test over to the commercial side to use with our females, as well.
One of the major benefits of using DNA testing in a commercial setting is to identify parentage, explained Buzanowski.
“If we’re turning out multiple bulls, we can go through, look at the DNA, match it up to a bull and identify her sire,” he said.
With sire information, producers are able to limit inbreeding occurrences and identify problematic trends.
“If there are any issues at birth, whether they be a defect, big calves or little calves, if we’re noticing a trend, it’s very possible it goes back to a certain bull we used,” Buzanowski commented.
Producers are also able to monitor calf performance over the animal’s lifetime and match it to the sires in their breeding program.
“How are our cattle performing? Are they performing good or bad? We can take that information and make those adjustments in our program,” Buzanowski said.
The information gained on an animal’s dollar value for a specific set of traits through the use of indexes is another benefit of genetic testing, said Buzanowski.
In the maternal index, the company strictly evaluates maternal traits.
“Sixty-six percent of the maternal index is going to be made up of our two most important traits in the industry, heifer pregnancy and calving ease,” he continued. “Next in line at about 20 percent is going to be weaning weight, and then, we take a little bit into mature cow size and milk.”
Buzanowski explained that Zoetis elected to not put a large emphasis on cow size and milk production, as producer preferences vary greatly depending on the operation and environment.
In the feeder index, 61 percent is focused on growth and efficiency, he said.
“Growth and efficiency are how we make our money, so that’s how we’re going to weight our index,” continued Buzanowski. “Then, we take into account ribeye, fat and marbling.”
The total advantage score index focuses roughly 40 percent on maternal traits, 40 percent on growth efficiency and 20 percent on carcass traits.
“The reason we weighted it that way was because we wanted an index that was applicable to what’s going on in cow/calf country,” he explained.
According to Buzanowski, i50K testing can be incorporated into a number of programs, both with the American Angus Association and in the feeding sector.
A verified program that Zoetis is partnered with is Reputation Calf Feeder.
“Basically, they take all of the herd’s genetic information from the last 10 years, without DNA testing,” he said.
Using the history of herd bulls, the program calculates what calves are worth over market price.
However, with DNA testing, the program only requires data from the previous year’s bulls.
“DNA testing generates a more accurate value that tends to be higher because we’re looking at exactly where the herd’s genetics are right now,” continued Buzanowski.
He noted that while producers may not see 100 percent added value for their calves, they can expect to see premiums based on the information.
“We are seeing premiums that came from this kind of information,” Buzanowski concluded.
Buzanowski spoke during an industry producer dinner sponsored by Zoetis, Superior Livestock and First Northern Bank of Wyoming on April 19.
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.