Managing herd genetics is difficult without the right tools, and even harder when you produce crossbred cattle.
The first part to optimizing herd genetics is selecting sires/dams with the best genes. This can be achieved by purchasing breeding stock that have the best estimated progeny differences (EPDs). However, EPDs can have low accuracy, not include all the traits of interest, or animals may not have EPDs at all.
Keeping heifer calves or bulls from your own herd is a great way to select the traits you most desire, but without individual EPDs, it’s hard to know which one may be genetically superior.
The second part is breeding cattle with the optimal combination of genes and performance. Part of this is taking advantage of hybrid vigor or heterosis, where the progeny are superior to their parents. Crossbreeding cattle is the easiest way to achieve hybrid vigor, but after the first generation, it can become harder to predict how much hybrid vigor the calves will have.
Over the last five years, several trials have taken place led by Livestock Gentec, in partnership with Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada and the University of Alberta, to develop new genetic prediction tools for crossbreed cattle. They are now looking for samples from 10,000 crossbred cattle for a new trial to showcase genomic tools and help develop new ones.
Producers can participate in this project by providing herd DNA samples. In return, you’ll be given direct access to several genetic tools.
You will be able to receive genomically-enhanced EPDs for eight feed efficiency and carcass traits. These are then combined with economic weightings to produce a Feeder Profitability Index (FPI). The FPI provides a single number that can be used to select for the most economically relevant feed efficiency and carcass traits at the same time.
In addition, participants may also receive genomically-enhanced EPDs for five heifer fertility traits combined with economic weightings to produce a Replacement Heifer Profit Index (RHPI). These will allow beef producers to select genetically superior replacement heifers for multiple reproductive traits with a single number.
For the first time, the group will also be providing customizable indexes. This means you can build your own index by choosing the genetic traits most important to your operation’s goals.
There is also the opportunity to receive a breed composition analysis, which will identify up to 14 different breeds, and provide a hybrid vigor score which is an indicator of increased fertility, longevity, and decreased disease susceptibility. With this score, selection for maximized hybrid vigour can be accomplished.
Lastly, through a partnership with Neogen Canada, participants can have parentage testing included if they wish.
This type of analysis would normally cost around $60 per sample, but thanks to support from Emissions Reduction Alberta and the Beef Cattle Research Council, participants will only pay $15 per DNA sample submitted. Space is limited and only crossbred cattle from Alberta will be considered – the ideal sample type is hair from crossbred replacement heifers or mature cows, but some bulls may be considered.