In today’s day and age, there are more and more technological advancements in the field of agriculture.
One such advancement that is beginning to gain popularity is genomics – an area within genetics that concerns the sequencing and analysis of an organism’s genome.
In an article published by Dr. Ananya Mandal, she explains that “the genome is the entire DNA content that is present within one cell of an organism. Experts in genomics strive to determine complete DNA sequences and perform genetic mapping.”
Could this mapping be an avenue to make your cattle herd more profitable?
“Genomics help improve accuracy of expected progeny differences (EPD), thus combining genomics and EPDs should help make your cattle more appealing to buyers, whether seedstock or feeder cattle buyers,” Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist explained. “At our Show-Me-Select Bred Heifer sale recenlty, the top group of heifers, based on their average price, were genomic tested. The heifers had other features that led to active bidding for them. They were all AI bred and out of AI sires that met strict standards. They had been on novel endophyte fescue and had gained well. The gain made their weights and body condition attractive to the bidders.”
There is a growing trend for this DNA mapping and the growth in usage has come from the ability to predict performance traits. Some experts have also noted that some producers use genomics more for herd management, and not just a culling tool for underperforming cattle.
According to researchers Alison Van Eenennaam of the University of California Davis and Darrh Bullock, University of Kentucky, that genetic gain in herds is predominately driven by sire selection.
“Although it may seem intuitive to focus on female selection to drive fertility, bulls are where selection focus should lie,” Van Eenennaam and Bullock wrote in their research for the University of Kentucky. “That is because sires have a larger number of offspring per year (approximately 25-35) than females who typically have a single calf per year; 87.5 percent of genetic composition of the calf crop is determined by the sires used over the last three generations.”
The researchers also point out that heterosis continues to be a proven means of improving herd reproduction.
“Choosing the right management tools to make genetic improvement in the beef herd is critical to economic viability,” Van Eenennaam and Bullock wrote. “Taking advantage of heterosis, along with good sire selection decisions, are proven means of positioning the herd for profitability.”
Producers may test all the replacements they’re certain they are keeping and then use gain and grade information to make strategic matings.
“Remember, genomic results should allow you to compare your traits against other animals. You may discover after testing them that your calves are even below average,” Cole advised.
In the past few years, genomic testing has become more accurate, and the price has become more affordable at $17 to $20 per head.
Van Eenennaam and Bullock recommend, as in all other management practices, to weigh the cost/gain balance of available tools, and for every dollar invested producers should expect at least an additional dollar in return.
Genomic testing is a commitment, and can be used as a marketing tool.
“Using genomics is a fairly long-term investment in breeding stock selection. If you’re a devoted record keeper and know what your cattle have in their genetic background you’ll probably make quicker progress towards profit from genomics,” Cole explained. “The bottom line is genomic testing and added profits, depend on how you utilize it in your marketing. If you just invest in the testing but don’t sell those calves or heifers through a market that allows you to promote them then you may be disappointed in the effort. We’re still in the early stages of using genomics and things are moving fast and their use in breeding, selection and marketing will change as we all become more familiar with it.”


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