A new tool for selecting commercial beef heifers: genomics

Spring is quickly approaching. That means warmer weather and green grass are on the way. For the cow/calf producers, it means that calving is in full swing (or about over for some) and the breeding season is just around the corner.

Decisions are being made that will impact the cattle operation for several years, such as the next herd bull to purchase or the sires to breed cows and heifers through artificial insemination. Some producers spend many hours in selecting the right bull for their operation, looking over pedigrees, EPDs, performance data, etc. There is a tremendous amount of data available on purebred cattle, but limited genetic data on commercial cattle.

In the past, selection for our commercial replacements has been on individual performance, structural soundness, body phenotype and possibly genetic information about sire(s) and/or dam. There has been little to no measure of genetic potential of commercial replacement heifers.  However, that is rapidly changing with the use of genomic testing.

Genomic predictions are being developed and available for commercial cattle producers to utilize in their operation.  Commercial cattle often do not have EPDs, which provide a predictive measure of the animal’s genetic potential like purebred cattle.  These genetic predictions can be used to select                        replacement heifers, market feeder calves, and/or make mating decisions.

Through genomic testing, producers are able to make more informed decision that could impact their operation for many years.  Depending on the test utilized for genomic testing, producers can gain valuable information on maternal traits, performance traits and carcass traits. Some of the genomic tests are breed specific, such as Angus (>75%) or Gelbvieh; whereas others are non-breed specific. 

Selection decisions can be made by retaining the higher ranking animals that meet your production goals and culling the animals that are below average.  In addition, genetic predictions can be utilized in making mating decisions. If you have low scoring heifers for carcass traits, you could mate your heifers to higher carcass value bulls and increase performance.

Majority of the tests cost between $20-50 per head, depending on the number of traits being evaluated. The greater the number of traits being measured, the higher the price tag for the test.

In addition, the genomic tests offer sire parentage testing. Think of the opportunity to measure performance differences of multi-sired groups of heifers.  One could gain tremendous information on their herd bulls and make decisions accordingly to your specific goals of your operation.

With the genetic information on commercial cattle, producers can make management and marketing decisions that could potentially be very powerful. I would not recommend making selection or management decisions solely on the results of genomic testing.  Genomic testing is another tool in the tool box. Will it be utilized by every producer?  No, but those that choose to take advantage of this new technology could increase their rate of progress in their herd dramatically.

Source: David Hoffman, Livestock Specialist