Genomic data provides opportunity for the beef industry
“In the seedstock business, we want to make sure cattle we sell have the ability to give our customers the ability to stand a chance of profitability,” says Mark Gardiner, owner and operator of the Gardiner Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kan. in a recent Cattle U webinar hosted by the High Plains Journal on genomic applications for beef producers. “I often challenge other producers and cattlemen to help our customers meet their goals, and ultimately, when we think about selling beef we need to think about our final customers, consumers and why they eat beef.”
Gardiner calls genomics a genetic cheat sheet for making breeding decisions for phenotypically similar cattle. Adding genomics to technologies such as artificial insemination (AI) and expected progeny differences (EPDs) gives beef producers the opportunity to identify genetics leading to added value and eventually, the potential for premiums on their cattle.
Since 1964, the breeding program at the Gardiner Angus Ranch has been completely AI. Gardiner shares at the time, AI was a technology disruption in the beef industry – a process where a small company with few resources successfully challenges larger, established business or invents entirely new markets.
Gardiner adds until recent years, cattle were sold on a per-pound basis with a one-size-fits-all mentality.
“In the early days, getting cattle to upgrade to the average price was the best way to make money,” he shares. “Things like Certified Angus Beef, U.S. Premium Beef and grid pricing started to differentiate value between cattle.”
This change led many producers to identify genetics which added value to their herd. Before EPDs, there was not an objective way to select sires based on economic value. EPDs, Gardiner says, were another technology disruption for the beef industry.
Today, he notes, combining pedigree information, performance data, EPDs and genomically enhanced EPDs have allowed producers to look under the hide when building cattle to fit environments, customers and consumers.
Reproductive efficiency, early growth, end product merit and maternal ability are components Gardiner believes to be essential to a beef operation. EPDs for beef cattle traits and dollar selection indexes were made to simplify breeding decisions for producers to hit their goals.
“Scientists have done so well at making EPDs something producers can understand,” Gardiner says. “There’s a lot of complex math and equations involved, but we don’t have to understand them, we just need to apply the science.”
In working to create more efficient pounds of beef, Gardiner notes the bottom line is genomically enhanced EPDs take information including pedigree and genomic results, performance data and progeny data to get predictive genetic data.
“If we look at the American Angus Association database for carcass traits, many sires don’t have any carcass data gathered on their progeny,” he says. “With genomically enhanced EPDs, we have information available to predict carcass weight, marbling, ribeye and fat before a dam or sire even reproduces.”
Research has allowed everything from respiratory disease to palatability to have heritability, says Gardiner. He explains this science is an opportunity for beef producers to predict hard to measure traits for great success.
More than reproduction
Gardiner suggests beef producers should look at genetics as a risk management tool.
“One of our customers assessed around 1,000 heifers, and using genomics, increased the percentage of calves hitting Choice or higher from 86.1 percent to 99.8 percent, calves hitting Prime from 0.83 percent to 26.1 percent and calves with a yield grade three or better from 89.3 percent to 92.5 percent over a period of three years,” he shares.
As an example, Gardiner explains genetic hedges have earned his operation and his customers an average of $101.04 per head above base price. With a base price of $95 per hundredweight (cwt), a premium of $8.50 per cwt makes a world of difference.
“What makes us money makes our customers money,” he continues. “If I can keep our customers in business and help them be profitable, then I have a chance to stay in business also. If we can make some money and satisfy our customers, including consumers, with predictable genetics, we should continue to do so and be successful.”
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.