Is it worth the time and effort?
Advancements in genetic testing in recent years have created new opportunities for cattle producers. Many producers in the Ozarks and across the country now utilize DNA testing to help them improve their herds. Whether producers will benefit from DNA testing their herd depends on their goals and their specific operation. However, there are some general benefits to implementing DNA testing in a cattle operation.
Animal Selection and Retention
Cattle producers who want to develop their own breeding animals may want to utilize DNA testing as a tool to assist them with management decisions. “It can help identify those animals with the greatest value earlier than what is available by doing it with traditional selection methods where you have to wait for them to have two to three calves to identify them as being superior,” Johnny Gunsaulis, county extension agent with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said.
If the DNA results point to the animal not fitting what a producer needs as a replacement in the herd, then the producer can sell the animal prior to investing years of growing the animal to full maturity and observing its offspring. In some cases, the animal may be worth the most in its lifetime at a year old. Depending on the traits desired, DNA testing can guide producers on decisions to sell or retain an animal.
DNA Testing in Commercial Herds
DNA testing can prove to be useful to some commercial producers as well. Gunsaulis says DNA testing has its place in commercial herds that are consistent in nature and raise their own breeding stock. The DNA markers also provide producers with trait information on an animal that may not show up for years later.
Commercial producers who are selling animals direct to their customers as custom fed cattle can use DNA testing to identify traits such as marbling, ribeye area and other select carcass qualities. “They will be able to make selection differences a lot faster using those DNA markers than they would having to wait until they slaughtered the animals to get that information,” Gunsaulis explained. The DNA markers can also signal defects in an animal.
Similar to a seedstock or purebred operation, DNA testing helps commercial producers determine which animals to keep and which to cull. “If you can identify them at a year old, that gives you a lot more marketing options than having to wait until you have kept them to a 2 year old and they have had their first calf,” Gunsaulis explained.
The DNA tools are most effective in herds with animals having similar breed composition. Commercial herds with multiple breeds will be limited in the use of DNA tools to compare animals. In these situations, the money and effort to DNA test may not be worth it.
Future of Genetic Testing
As research continues and genetic testing evolves the areas of advancement expand. In the future, there may be genetic predictors for a broader range of attributes. In addition, this growing area of research and study opens the door for more opportunities for youth interested in science and agriculture.