Breed associations emphasize use of genomic data for added value in commercial cattle operations
Commercial cattlemen may be dropping the ball when it comes to utilizing genomic data within their operations.
Although survey data repeatedly has shown only one-third of bull buyers rely on expected progeny differences (EPDs) as their primary selection criteria, representatives from three breed associations still agree the information could greatly improve their return on investment if they would use it.
“Accumulation and assimilation of information has been the goal of the American Angus Association (AAA) since it started in 1873,” says Dan Moser of the St. Joseph, Mo.-based group. “We started out by developing pedigrees, but it has grown into where data management is a big part of what we do.”
Moser says the association receives information from 25,000 members all over the country, which is then turned into genetic predictions and EPD calculations.
“Those are sent out to be used by the commercial industry,” he explains.
Accumulating this much data is no small task. Moser says over 8 million weaning weights are stored in AAA’s vast database. “We have worked to make this information more user-friendly over time and applicable to the commercial industry.”
“Ultimately, we want to help producers be more profitable and make better genetic decisions,” he explains.
The mission of the American Simmental Association, based in Bozeman, Mont., is similar.
“We are here for the benefit of our membership’s customers,” explains Chip Kemp, who is the director of member and industry relations. “We feel there has to be a commercial application for the data we collect.”
“Our primary commercial effort is to provide the most powerful and robust evaluation we can put together for both seedstock and commercial producers,” he continues. “If we forget that, we have missed out.”
In fact, Kemp says they collaborate aggressively with 11 other breed associations with similar philosophies. These breed associations formed International Genetic Solutions (IGS), which has the largest genetic beef cattle database on the planet.
“This multi-breed database allows producers to directly compare breed to breed and animal to animal,” Kemp says. “They can compare the weaning weight of an Angus to a Simmental to a Red Angus bull.”
“This is important at a commercial level because it allows producers to compare apples to apples and make good genetic decisions,” he explains.
The American Hereford Association (AHA) started a young sire test program in 1999 that attempted to develop bulls more suitable for commercial operations. Breeders would nominate 15 sires to participate in this program. Their offspring were placed in a low-input forage environment with low supplementation to evaluate how they performed. Data was collected from birth to harvest.
Since then, AHA has added a smaller test herd in South Dakota, and six years ago, a heifer calving project at Simplot Ranches in Idaho was developed.
“We want to move forward with more projects like this because our goal is to get more Hereford genetics into the cowherd,” states Shane Bedwell, who is the director of breed improvement for the Kansas City, Mo.-based association. “We believe in the value of heterosis and that Hereford genetics can complement and contribute to the bottom line of these commercial operations.”
Despite advancements, many programs are still under-utilized.
“I would like to see commercial producers utilize some of these whole herd or inventory-based reporting systems,” Kemp says. “I think they provide a great deal of information, and producers can add so much knowledge so fast.”
“They are low-dollar inputs, and it doesn’t take a lot of time or investment,” he explains.
Moser says he would like to see more interest in some of the feeder cattle marketing programs AAA offers.
“Some of these producers are using outstanding genetics and know there is real value in their calves, but they are not always able to capture that,” he says.
Most of the programs offered by all the associations are simple to do and provide the opportunity to recapture some of that return on investment, he adds.
Into the future
Moser also sees genetics playing a bigger role in marketing in the future.
“As time goes on, there may be a greater differential in cattle that have documentation and those that don’t,” he says.
However, Kemp reminds commercial producers that although DNA is in vogue, phenotype is still king.
“Commercial producers need to consider both to make genetic change,” he says. “Don’t just focus on DNA. It could be a big mistake.”
In fact, as the breed associations try to provide commercial producers with more information, in some cases, they have inundated them with EPDs that are difficult to digest.
“Instead of trying to figure out EPDs, many commercial producers just use other ways to evaluate the bulls they want to buy,” Kemp says.
“It is really all about precision and accuracy. There is still room for improvement in this business,” he comments. “As we do a better job providing this information in a way everyone can understand, more people will be willing to use it.”
“It will require educating these producers so they can understand what the data means and are able to use it to improve their own operations,” Bedwell adds.
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.