Commercial cattlemen can use genomic information for more accurate EPDsWritten by Gayle Smith
The added value of genomic information to expected progeny differences (EPDs) in beef cattle might produce more accurate EPDs, especially in young, unproven bulls.
The evolution of genomic information isn’t designed to replace EPDs but to make the information more accurate, according to Matt Spangler, University of Nebraska beef geneticist.
The use of genomic information can be particularly helpful for commercial cattlemen. If a commercial producer is evaluating two yearling bulls with identical EPDs, which should he choose?
If additional genomic information is available that shows one bull has a calving ease of +11, while the other is -2, that producer could have made a serious mistake without this additional information, Spangler said.
This technology can really be useful in younger animals that don’t have a lot of EPD data available.
Genomic testing has also been used as parent testing to ensure animals have the correct pedigree but it has now evolved into collecting data for complex traits, which are traits influenced by numerous genes that have EPDs.
“When genomics first came into the marketplace, bull sale catalogs were filled with a plethora of information,” Spangler said. “A lot of that information was useless because the ratios, EPDs and accuracy were too low.”
Nucleus breeders who produce seedstock for other seedstock operators need to be the first to implement genomic information into their programs.
“Within each breed, the nucleus population is what drives genetic change,” Spangler explained.
“Seedstock producers can utilize this information to make genetic change quicker. They can use fewer animals because they have more accurate data and more confidence in the animals they use,” he explained.
Spangler discussed the current application of genomic tools, including testing for genetic defects, paternity, genomic-enhanced EPDs and the potential for marker-assisted management. His take-home message to seedstock producers is to continue to collect and routinely record phenotypic information, even if they collect genomic data.
“As a seedstock producer, we still need to weigh our calves at birth,” he said. “Genomic technology only makes these tools stronger. It does not replace them.”
Spangler sees genomic predictions being particularly valuable to seedstock producers with young, unproven bulls. Before genomics were available, producers used EPDs to select a sire and then had to test the bull by producing many offspring to improve accuracy for the traits carried by that bull.
“Genomics and the corresponding marker-assisted or genomic-enhanced EPD, have become a reality,” Spangler explained.
“Within a breed, genomic predictions have proven to add accuracy for several traits, particularly to young bulls,” he added.
The problem with genomic testing, Spangler continued, is it tends to be breed specific.
“If a test was developed for Angus, it will work best for Angus cattle. The test will not be as accurate if it is used in other breeds. An Angus test used on Charolais will not work as well, and we will be really disappointed if we use it in Bos indicus cattle,” he explained.
In fact, Spangler discussed a study where the application of a genomic prediction test developed for Angus was used on the closely related Red Angus. The results showed a substantial amount of variation and were deemed inaccurate, he said.
Many producers question whether a genotyped bull is better.
“His EPDs should be more accurate, but it does not make him a better bull,” Spangler explained. “As accuracy increases, some bull’s EPDs will go up, and some will go down. We don’t need to understand genomic test results. They are supposed to be incorporated into the EPDs to make them more accurate. Just look at the EPD.”
Originally, genomics was developed to help researchers pinpoint genetic defects like marble bone. Before this testing was available, Spangler said animals were purged based on their pedigree.
“We can now use genetic testing to pick out the carriers and determine what to do with them,” he explained. “Without this testing, some breeds would have been decimated in the past few years.”
Genomic testing will also continue to be developed and used to identify genetic defects in cattle.
“There are many more genetic defects out there,” he said. “We just haven’t identified them all yet.”
Heifer selection technology important for harnessing full power of geneticsWritten by Saige Albert
As cattle herd expansion continues, many producers are focused on selecting replacement heifers – a process that is historically based only on visual appraisal. However, products are available today to improve the selection process.
“The premier heifer selection product on the market is called GeneMax Advantage,” explains Kent Andersen, Zoetis technical services specialist. “We’ve taken what we’ve learned after testing many thousands of registered Angus seedstock and developed a commercial-oriented product to help cow/calf producers augment selection based on phenotype.”
Andersen notes that GeneMax Advantage strives to help commercial operators look at selection, mating and marketing decisions within their herds using more comprehensive genetic information about traits in the unseen and often unmeasured world.
Making a game plan
“Using this genetic test helps to synergize Angus bull buying with replacement heifer selection,” Andersen says. “When we talk to commercial users of Angus genetics, we do so in the context of having a complete genetic game plan.”
Using the analogy of a football game, Andersen compares offense to buying the best bulls in terms of superior genomically enhanced (GE)-EPDs.
He continues, “The defensive part of the game plan is using a tool like GeneMax Advantage to pick the best replacements based on both traditional and new information.”
Utilizing a combined strategy allows producers to get an increased level of genetic gain and see faster progress.
“We can progress productivity on an annual basis more quickly if we use both of these tools wisely, as opposed to just traditional means,” Andersen says.
Testing heifers is a relatively simple process, Andersen notes. Producers must first collect and submit a DNA sample.
DNA can come from blood samples on a blood card, hair samples or tissue samples.
“Blood samples can be pulled from the ear or tail head – wherever the producer is most comfortable getting it from,” Tonya Amen, genetic service director at the American Angus Association (AAA), says. “For hair, we need 20 to 40 good hairs out of the switch of the tail.”
It is important when collecting hair samples to ensure the root bulb of the hair is intact.
“The third way, Allflex® tissue sampling, is more recent, and we only take tissue samples for commercial, not registered Angus, cattle,” she adds.
Orders and samples are submitted through the AAA website at angus.org or by filling out an Excel ordering spreadsheet and emailing it, as well as including a printed copy with the samples.
After samples are received, they are tested, and results are compiled.
“We determine the genotypes and send the information back to Angus Genetics, Inc. (AGI),” Andersen says. “Reports are then distributed to the customer via an emailed report and link to their secured AGI member account.”
While results are often received within three weeks, Andersen and Amen encouraged producers to allow a month for mailing of samples. The extra time also allows for re-testing if a sample fails initial testing.
Understanding the information
When information is available, producers receive a report that ranks heifers on several simple, easy-to-use economic index scores that account for the costs and value of production.
“We rank heifers based on an index of maternal traits that we call Cow Advantage for combined genetic merit for heifer pregnancy, calving ease maternal, weaning weight, growth, milk production of the cow and mature cow size,” Andersen says.
A second index, Feeder Advantage, ranks combined genetic merit for all post-weaning traits, and Andersen notes that it picks up where Cow Advantage leaves off. These traits include feedyard gain, dry matter intake, carcass weight, ribeye area and marbling scores, valued on a Certified Angus Beef (CAB) grid.
“The third index is called Total Advantage, and it includes all of the above,” he says. “It ranks the candidate replacement females on everything – maternal, feedlot and carcass.”
GeneMax Advantage also identifies animals with outlier genetic merit in key traits that may impact keep or cull and mating decisions.
“Thanks to AGI, we also have Smart Outlier reporting, which flags animals that may be out of bounds for costs associated with cow size, milk, docility, marbling and tenderness,” Andersen explains.
Recognizing that each commercial cow/calf operation is unique, cow/calf producers can also customize thresholds for identifying outliers to more efficiently achieve specific productivity goals.
The final component of the GeneMax Advantage report is the identification of the sires for tested heifers, if Angus bulls in the battery are HD50K or i50K tested. This enables better management of outcross mating decisions and secondary evaluation of the bull battery.
Benefits of testing
Utilizing a heifer selection product offers a number of benefits for commercial cattlemen, Amen and Andersen explain.
Amen notes, “When we think about the information that goes into these products, I don’t know of any others that are like GeneMax Advantage that incorporate the performance data and all of the database information.”
With over 180,000 Angus genotypes in AAA’s database, she adds that the tool provides an opportunity to link genetic information with the dollar-value indexes available.
She also notes that testing heifers allows comparison of animals from year to year on an equal basis.
“It allows producers to compare apples to apples each year,” Amen explains. “Producers can set benchmarks and see how they are making progress.”
Revolutionary and dynamic
“The reason we are so excited about GeneMax Advantage is it is a dynamic product and is synergized with HD50K and i50K testing by Angus breeders,” Andersen says. “Currently, AGI and Zoetis are working on the fifth version of HD50K. It includes upwards to 100,000 animals.”
Amen adds, “As we make changes at AAA, whether that is adding new traits or new data, we can update GeneMax Advantage. It is always current. We can count on accurate, up-to-date information.
“The more producers know about the cowherd, the better job they can do in the spring as they buy Angus bulls,” Andersen adds.
Genetic testing for heifers, connected to the bull battery, provides a new paradigm in the world of genetics, he continues, noting that the value return from better bull and heifer selection and breeding decisions is poised to extend into price discovery for feeder cattle that’s based on predicted performance in the feedyard and on the rail.
Andersen comments, “We think we are at the tip of the iceberg as far how this information is used in the future to impact beef supply chain profitability.”
Genetics for the cowherd depend on environmental factors, herd ageWritten by Madeline Robinson
“Efficiency for the cowherd is a different beast,” said Matt Spangler, beef genetics specialist for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Particularly when producers think about the energy consumed and their true input costs into their cows, efficiency is important.”
Spangler added that a better job could be done to collect the exact cost of efficiency and input costs for cow/calf productions.
Spangler spoke during a webinar for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Jan. 14.
Demands of cows
The goals producers have for their cows can be quite demanding at times by having them be fertile at a relatively young age, developing a short post-partum interval, calve unassisted, have maternal calving ease and be adaptive to any stress on a production environment.
They also must have an optimal level of milk because not enough or too much milk can be problematic, as well as have optimal docility, good mothering abilities, be an efficient grazer and be able to maintain herself on un-harvested forage.
“Efficiency of growth in cows is not the target. We are not trying to grow mature cows,” explained Spangler. “Maintenance requirements and efficiency are the target, and we are making them more efficient relative to their maintenance costs.”
High or low maintenance
Spangler described a study that was done by Gordon Dickenson that partitioned energy intake to the animal and how it goes to the dam’s maintenance, gestation, lactation, progeny maintenance and food deposition of protein and fat.
“Beef cattle have more life cycle energy intake per kilogram of edible product,” described Spangler. “A big chunk of this is because the dam’s maintenance can make a lot of improvements by simply improving the efficiency of maintenance.”
High maintenance cows generally have higher milk production and higher visceral organ weight. Due to that high visceral organ weight, high milk-producing cows have increased maintenance requirements even when they are dry. Thus, they require more energy to maintain themselves.
“The trick is knowing which production environment a high or low maintenance female will fit in,” commented Spangler.
When feed is low in an environment, a cow with high production potential is unable to consume enough energy for their maintenance requirements and be able to have a fully functional reproductive system.
Even though the cow may have the genetic potential to milk a lot, without the proper energy to surpass her energy requirements to maintain herself, her reproduction ability will decrease.
On the opposite side, a cow with low production potential in an environment high in energy will only become fatter. The cow’s maintenance requirements have been met and the excess energy is unable to go towards producing milk or calf growth because the cow did not have the genetic potential to do that in the first place.
“A cow with high production potential that does have a high genetic potential to milk more and weigh more can put that extra energy into lactation,” explained Spangler. “It’s important to understand the production environment and then fit the animals to that production environment.”
Expected progeny differences
To help figure out an animal’s genetic potential, estimated progeny differences, more commonly known as EPDs, are used.
“Over the years as producers look at EPDs and select for increased weaning weight or increased yearly weight, we have never stopped to contemplate how much feed those animals are going to eat and will it balance out when we sell them,” commented Spangler.
Spangler added, “The paradigm needs to shift in terms of thinking about genetic selection from just increasing a response in one trait to increasing profit potential by contemplating several traits at same time.”
Characteristics Spangler suggests to focus on are growth and how it relates to the animal’s mature size. Additionally, he recommends a focus more on the genetic correlations between mature weight and immature weight of birth weight, weaning weight and yearling weight.
“If we select for increased weaning weight and yearling weight, there is certainly a potential to have a correlated response in terms of increased mature cow weight,” said Spangler.
He added that producers also need to be cognizant of mature cow size in all breeds and how they have changed through the years as people have selected to increase or decrease the prevalence of a certain trait.
“Producers should also recognize that selection for all of the traits that are important to a cow/calf operation are not necessarily straight forward because there are so many traits that impact the bottom line,” explained Spangler.
Reverting back to basics
Producers can become confused and frustrated when deciding on which genetic traits to select for and if the prevalence of those traits will be increased or decreased in the herd. They can also become concerned about how those traits are going to contribute to the efficiency of a herd.
“Anytime the matter of cow efficiency becomes overwhelmingly complex, we should revert back to the basics,” explained Matt Spangler, beef genetics specialist for University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
An equation Spangler uses to help him revert back to the basics of a cow/calf operation is:
Profit = Weaning Weight x Percentage of Calf Crop x Dollars per Pound x Number of Cows – Annual cost to the cow/calf operation
“This is a very simple profit equation producers can use to help them calculate their profit and annual costs,” reiterated Spangler.
High performance bulls Midland prepares for 2015 saleWritten by WYLR
Columbus, Mont. – In 53 years, the folks at Midland Bull Test have evaluated over 10,000 bulls and replacement females across 26 efficiency trials with the objective of determining the differences between sires to benefit ranchers across the country.
Started in 1962 by Leo and Donna, Midland Bull Test has grown, and Steve and Lindsay Williams who run the operation now say, “It has grown thanks to the dedication, trust and support of our customers.”
“We are proud of the bulls we get to develop and the consignors with who we get the privilege of working with,” the Williams’ continue.
This year’s Midland Bull Test Sale is scheduled for April 1-3, with three full days of socials, sales and speakers. Eight breeds of cattle – Angus, Red Angus, South Devon, Salers, Simmental, Gelbvieh, Hereford and Murray Grey – will sell over the week.
“With so much change coming at us all so fast, it’s reassuring that some things remain the same,” the Williams’ mention. “Ranchers will find that same feeling of timelessness at Midland Bull Test where they’ll find an unparalleled collection of bulls all developed in the most positive, sound environment tonight.”
More information on the sale and all of the bulls consigned is available at midlandbulltest.com.
Final results in our 2015 Midland Bull Test special edition!
Guaranteeing calves, Sexed semen provides commercial benefitWritten by Gayle Smith
Rapid City, S.D. – Although more technological advances are needed to make it a more viable option in the commercial beef business, using sexed semen can benefit commercial beef producers, according to John Hall, University of Idaho beef specialist.
Hall has conducted research on the use of sexed semen in the commercial beef industry. He has a vested interest in seeing it used at his own research facility to produce replacement heifers.
“We have Hereford-Angus cross females at the research facility I work at, and producers come in and want to breed all sorts of things to them,” he explained during his presentation at the Beef Range Cow Symposium. “The question became how could we retain our Hereford-Angus cow base, using all these different genetics for research purposes. It became clear that using sexed semen to produce replacement females may be the answer.”
Since then, Hall has learned a lot about using sexed semen in beef cows.
When sexed semen was first introduced in the beef industry, its success rate was only 35 to 40 percent. However, as technology advances and better sorting methods are developed, it now averages 55 to 65 percent.
“This is technology that is useful and will probably stay around, but it is technology that has some risk involved with it, at this time,” he explained.
In fact, a new technique for sorting semen was used for the first time last year, Hall said. It is estimated it will increase conception about five percent over what it was.
Sexed semen has been used in the dairy industry for some time, with thousands of successful conceptions. Hall said in dairy heifers, the conception rate is about 50 percent, but it is considerably lower in post-partum, lactating dairy cows.
Based on that, Hall decided to see how it would work in a beef cow.
“Early on, we were told not to use sexed semen in lactating beef cows. But, it seems like a lactating beef cow with a good body condition score, who is 40 days post-partum, is probably about as fertile an animal as producers would have on a farm,” he said.
Hall compared that to a heifer he really likes but doesn’t know what her track record will be.
“The cow has already bred a few times, so we know she is pretty fertile,” he comments.
In a three-year study, Hall investigated whether or not sexed semen could be used on a limited number of cows to produce replacement females. During this study, he used fixed time AI with sexed semen, bred to one sire and averaged a 50 percent pregnancy rate.
“We thought we did pretty well when we looked at similar studies that only showed about 33 percent,” he said. “From that research, we think sexed semen can be used in beef cows if they are good candidates for artificial insemination (AI) to start with.”
Hall mentioned several factors that can contribute to successful sexed semen AI.
“Find animals that are in heat or breed animals that have been in heat prior to fixed time AI or for at least 12 hours after they shows estrus,” he recommended.
The beef specialist added it is important to use some type of estrus detection if sexed semen will be used.
“Breed the cows that come into heat or come into heat prior to fixed time AI with sexed semen. Then use conventional semen on the rest of the cows,” he explained.
This method is based on a study conducted by the University of Nebraska.
Mass insemination doesn’t work well, Hall continued.
“When semen goes through the sorting process, it gets treated really roughly. It gets damaged and incapacitated, and it is already starting through the biochemical process that it needs to fertilize an egg. It reduces the lifespan of the semen within the female reproductive tract,” he explained.
Because of this, there can be a large range of variation in pregnancy rates with sexed semen.
“Some bulls will just sort better than others. One bull may have 50 percent conception, and another may be 17 percent,” he said.
In the future, the fertility of sexed semen will improve, Hall said. Research is already underway to find ways to decrease sorting damage, develop synchronization systems and improve bull selection.
“Sexed semen will not ruin the industry,” Hall said. “It is a technology whose time has come in the beef industry. However, producers need to understand the risks and limitations.”
Using sexed semen can be economically advantageous in the commercial beef industry, according to John Hall, Extension beef specialist with the University of Idaho.
Hall said producers can use sexed semen to develop a maternal line of cows to cross with a terminal sire.
During the last 10 years, the size of steers and their carcass weights have increased. Cow size has also increased dramatically.
“Competing meat species have developed maternal lines and use those with terminal sires to get a better, higher yielding product. They have found it is a more efficient return on their investment,” he explained.
Hall said at his research facility in Idaho, they have chosen a group of elite maternal cows from the herd and bred those to maternal sires using sexed semen after fixed time artificial insemination (AI). They follow this process up with natural service to a maternal sire.
“We are getting about 66 to 70 heifers out of this group,” he said.
If a producer has 300 cows and saves 15 percent of his replacement heifers, he would need to breed about 100 cows to a maternal sire to get 45 replacement heifers.
“If we mate these cows to maternal bulls, then we will also have 45 steers that may not perform as well as those from a terminal sire,” Hall explained. “If we go with sexed semen, we would only need 25 percent of the herd to produce those same replacement heifers.”
Another advantage of using sexed semen in a commercial operation is the ability to select for the Y semen and produce more steer calves that could be sold for a premium.
In smaller operations of only 100 to 150 cows, producers can’t produce enough calves of one sex to fill a semi.
As an example, Hall discussed a neighbor who sold 35 steers for $160 per hundredweight and 35 heifers for $150 per hundredweight. Hall determined if the neighbors could have sold all steers, he would have netted $5,000 more.
Hall then compared this to another neighbor who sold the same day but had a full load of steers and earned $163 per hundredweight.
Basically, Hall determined the first neighbor was being docked not only for selling heifers but also because he had a mixed semi load of calves.
“If he would have had a full semi load and all steers, he would have made an additional $6,700,” Hall stated.
Economic Benefits of Sexed Semen
Steers/ Heifers (hd)
All Steer Impact
Dollar value -- Selling a full semi load of steers, rather than a mixed load of steers and heifer, can lead to real economic benefits of more than $5,000 per load, according to University of Idaho Extension Beef Specialist John Hall.