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Just Your Standard Bull

published: November 3rd 2017
by: Michael Sturgess
As a publisher who promotes the production and marketing of seedstock in the cattle industry, I marvel at the new technology that producers use to measure and market their product. As a marketer of seedstock, I’m encouraged at the increased accuracy that can be conveyed to the customer because of these advances. And as a seedstock producer, I constantly scratch my head and try to analyze which tools can I justify and get some sort of return on my investment.
First of all, one should consider the value of such tools to one’s own program. Will this tool help me make better decisions? And secondly, will this tool improve my customer’s experience? And finally, will it be worth enough premium to justify the expense.
The use of DNA testing to achieve genomic-enhanced expected progeny differences (GE-EPDs) is such a tool. Such tests known as 150K, 80K, 50K are used to improve the accuracy of your current EPDs. You’ve no doubt heard it explained as it is like having 1-2 years of calf data on a sire. It improves the accuracy of how these traits are displayed. Per-sonally, I have used it on young sires as well as donor females. My experience has been that in most cases, it has improved both the accuracy and the actual EPD—especially where there has been a lot of data collected on the lineage depicted in his three-generation pedigree.
Did you get that last part? The more data you have, the more improvement in accuracy and the EPD. It really does make sense when you think about it. For example, if you DNA test a bull calf that ratios 110% at weaning, wouldn’t it be easier to identify a DNA profile for higher weaning weights? To take it a step further, what if the same bull calf has a sire and a maternal grand sire that show above average EPD’s for weaning?
By the same token, not every son of a trait leading bull will produce trait leading genetics. Sometimes, the result manifests itself when you record a lower weaning weight. That result could be due to the dam’s individual performance, or just the unfortunate pairing of alleles from the sire and dam that just did not work. Does the actual DNA have a place in this mix? Absolutely. Especially if we can use this tool to make better matings in the future. Thereby hopefully reducing those matings that are destined to fail.
To me, for every answer that DNA answers brings us another thousand questions arise. Will DNA improve maternal EPDs and perhaps reduce the roller coaster ride that some sires take before their milk numbers stabilize? A bull is 4 1/2 years of age or older before the weaning data on his first daughters will be recorded. A lot of things change in 4 ? years.
At a recent Charolais board meeting, it was announced that an arrangement was made with Igenity to provide a 50K test at a reduced price of $43/head. The push of course is to get more DNA data, perhaps by enhancing producers of bulls to DNA all of their sale bulls. We are already seeing some of this in various breeds, particularly on higher profile operations. As a breeder who already pays for semen testing, trich testing, etc amongst other things like video and photography, I must now determine if the value of DNA testing the entire offering outweighs the expense of doing so. While there is no question that improving the accuracy of use for our customer is a high priority, one can no doubt find many things to spend money on when it comes to selling bulls.
In closing, I will leave you with another thought. We are all familiar with a number of replacement female programs like the ABBA Certified F1 program, the IBBA Brangus Built program, the BBU E-6 Certified program and the SGBI Star 5 Certified programs. Imagine a future where crossbred, or composite females sired by GE-EPD tested sires and out of GE-EPD tested dams of another breed, come with a GE profile that more accurately predicts the traits resulting from the matings of sire and dam, along with the added heterosis resulting from cross breeding. In an age where value is added for source verified genetics, along with more accurate predictors of their use? What about three-breed composites? More questions, more possibilities…

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