Friday, May 30, 2014

Jim Womack:
Update on the Bovine Respiratory Disease Project

Dr. Jim Womack, from Texas A&M University, visited the University of Missouri supported by funds from the Chancellor. Womack has been a pioneer in the field of genomics, with significant work on livestock species.

On May 28th, Womack discussed the Bovine Respiratory Disease USDA NIFA Coordinated Agriculture Project. The project just completed its third of five years of funding. Bovine Respiratory Disease has been researched since the 1800's, but despite more effective vaccines morbidity and mortality have not decreased. The long term goal of this project is to reduce the prevalence of BRD by selectively breeding resistant cattle using genomic technologies and by educating cattle producers to better manage the disease complex.

The team is using nearly 3,000 dairy cattle genotyped at 700,000 DNA variants. These cattle have clinical scores for BRD symptoms and measurements of specific pathogen infection. In a case-control data set, Holstein calves and heifers were identified as sick and classified using a clinical scoring system; these were the cases. This system gives calves four scores from 0 to 3 for temperature, nasal discharge, cough, and ear droopiness. A nearby calf free of BRD symptoms was sampled as the control. From this analysis 13% of the variation in BRD susceptibility is due to additive genetics. The research team has identified about 60 regions harboring variants which influence an animal's susceptibility to BRD. Despite the complex and diverse nature of BRD, the research team finds sections of the genome that appear to influence innate immunity, regardless of what pathogen species are present in the geographic region.

The team currently has samples for about 1,100 beef animals, and they are working to increase this number.

The team plans to generate a genomic prediction for BRD resistance. Animals could then be ranked based on their genetic merit for BRD resistance and animals could be artificially selected to improve the BRD resistance of a breed of cattle. Novel traits, like disease resistance, are one of the promising applications of genomic predictions. For traits which are difficult or expensive to measure a genomic prediction will allow producers to make genetic progress which would not have been possible otherwise.

More information about the project is available at

Thursday, May 29, 2014

American-International Charolais Association hosts Pathway to Genomic Enhanced EPD event

The Tuesday and Wednesday prior to the 2014 BIF conference, the AICA will put on an event to discuss the development of genomic enhanced EPDs in the Charolais breed. Contact Dr. Robert Williams to RSVP for this event.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 Beef Improvement Federation Annual Convention Registration due May 31st

The 2014 Beef Improvement Federation Annual Convention will be held in Lincoln, Nebraska June 18 through 21. The cost is $300 for the conference, with a block of rooms at the The Cornhusker Marriott for $109/night plus tax and overflow rooms available at the Holiday Inn Lincoln-Downtown. Please see the registration website for more details.

This is the premier national convention about applied beef genetics and breeding. The purpose of the convention is to discuss the genetic improvement of beef cattle. This year the focus is “Attention on Novel Traits: Needed or Novelty.” The convention will include discussions about feed efficiency, disease susceptibility, and profitable cow herds, among other topics. (The complete program can be accessed online.) As can be seen from the program, this conference will look at beef production at a system level. While the focus will be on genetics, the conference will describe how genetics fits into nutrition, health, reproduction, and product quality.

The University of Missouri Beef Genetics Extension program values this conference and has obtained funds to send six of our regional livestock specialists to this meeting. We look forward to these regional specialists using information gathered at BIF in their extension programs. Interested producers and allied-industry professions should strongly consider attending this conference.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Patent Suit: Leachman and Verified Beef Clarify Statements Regarding Reputation Feeder Cattle Program

I received an email this evening from Lee Leachman with the following statement attached:
Recent Communications Were Potentially Misleading: Of late, there have been allegations by the American Simmental Association (ASA) that Leachman Cattle of Colorado (LCoC) and/or Verified Beef (VB) are trying to “seek a monopoly on genetic prediction.” ASA also implies that we may be trying to prevent breed associations from developing genetic indexes for seedstock cattle. LCoC and VB would like to assure breed associations that this is simply not true. Our patent does not, in any way, keep a breed association from estimating EPD's or indexes on individual breeding cattle. We do not have monopolistic and/or anti-breed association goals.
Reputation Feeder Cattle Program Promotes Breed Associations: VB believes that the Reputation Feeder Cattle® (RFC) program and associated processes are pro-breed association. The RFC program provides opportunities for returning premiums to commercial ranchers that use bulls with superior genetics. We believe that the RFC program promotes breed association efforts by using their EPD’s on registered seedstock and incentivizes commercial producers to: 1) buy registered bulls, 2) buy higher quality registered bulls, and 3) have the bull registration papers transferred to their name. All of the above promotes breed associations. Furthermore, VB has actively sought relationships with multiple breed associations. We hope that associations will incorporate RFC into existing or new commercial marketing programs. In this same vein, VB met with ASA in 2013 in efforts to work together to offer RFC to ASA’s commercial bull customers. In summary, the RFC program requires EPDs, promotes innovation, and will be a positive factor for breed associations.
Why a Patent? One of the things that makes our country great are strong property rights to such things as land and ideas. Breed associations rightfully view their proprietary databases as valuable property. In like fashion, entrepreneurial businesses often use patents to establish property rights for valuable and innovative ideas. These patents encourage investment and innovation. For these reasons, in 2012, LCoC and VB began investing in and developing a new technology concept that we call the Reputation Feeder Cattle® program. Because we could find no previous example of this technology, we decided to pursue patents to protect the property rights to our ideas.
What are the Patents About? LCoC patented technology that uses association EPDs on a rancher’s historical bull battery through a novel and sophisticated process to predict the genetic merit of a group of commercial calves in comparison to the national average. When applying for the patents, we disclosed to the U.S. Patent Office, among other things, the efforts of breed associations to estimate EPDs that drive feeder value including work on indexes such as the Angus Association’s $Beef index, and the work of Zoetis and AAA on their Gene-Max™ program. Prior to granting the patents, the U.S. Patent Office extensively researched other previous efforts, in addition to these breed association efforts, to see if our ideas were unique. The patents are neither intended nor structured to provide any interference with the existing and further development of EPDs or indexes for seedstock cattle by breed associations.
What is the Lawsuit About? In the months prior to filing the lawsuit, LCoC and VB requested numerous times to meet with ASA to discuss these matters, but ASA refused to schedule such a meeting. The current lawsuit against ASA has two major areas of concern: 1) violation of our proprietary property rights as protected by our non-disclosure agreement, and 2) infringement of our patent rights. There is not a single component of the lawsuit which alleges that a breed association cannot continue to make genetic predictions for seedstock. If you are interested, please contact us and we can provide a complete copy of the patents and/or the complaint.
Summary: We believe that these issues have been misrepresented in the current dialogue on several levels. We support breed association efforts, and RFC promotes breed associations. The patents actually encourage genetic prediction, the use of indexes, and genetic improvement by associations and their members. The lawsuit does not attempt to restrict ASA from continuing to develop and maintain its EPDs and indexes for registered cattle. Leachman Cattle and Verified Beef are available to discuss further these matters if desired.
The complete patent is available on Google. Leachman clarified that they did not attempt to patent selection indexes, but stated, "Rather, we patented the determination of market price of a group of feeder calves."

See this post for the ASA's statement.

Patent Suit: Feeder Profit Calculator vs Reputation Feeder Cattle® and Genetic Merit Scorecard®

On May 11th, the American Simmental Association sent out the following information in an eNews message.
Leachman Cattle of Colorado, LLC and Verified Beef, LLC filed suit against the ASA, On April 11, 2014,  claiming that the ASA's Feeder Profit Calculator infringes a patent obtained by Leachman and licensed to Verified Beef for their Reputation Feeder Cattle® and Genetic Merit Scorecard® programs. The Genetic Merit Scorecard® program "takes EPDs of all the bulls used in [a] herd for the past 10 years, converts the data into simple-to-understand values, and shows [the] herd's rank (relative to the national average) for the traits that are most important to cattle feeders when predicting profit potential." The Genetic Merit Scorecard® provides star rankings for various traits as well as a relative dollar value ranking for a group of animals.
In the lawsuit, Leachman and Verified beef allege that they, not the ASA, "pioneered the concept of determining the relative economic value of a group of existing commercial calves and reporting that value to the owners and potential buyers of that group." Leachman and Verified Beef assert that they are exclusively entitled to market "systems and methods of determining the relative market value of a sale group of livestock based on genetic merit estimates" and that the ASA's Feeder Profit Calculator, which determines the relative value of feeder calves, violates the Reputation Feeder Cattle® and Genetic Merit Scorecard® patent. Leachman and Verified Beef stress that they have "several [other] pending patent applications covering aspects of this technology."
The ASA published the cattle industry's first sire summary in 1971, and developed the industry's first multi-breed genetic evaluation in 1997. In the early 2000's, the ASA teamed with USDA geneticist Mike MacNeil to develop dollar value indexes. Dollar value indexes blend EPDs and economics to estimate the overall impact on profitability of sires' progeny. Used extensively in the swine, poultry and dairy industry for many decades, dollar value indexes allow breeders and commercial cattle producers to make accurate decisions when determining the economic value of a group of livestock.
 Though Leachman and Verified Beef did not file their first patent application until April 13, 2013, they claim that prior to the ASA's meeting with them in early 2013, the ASA did not have a "product that determined the relative market value of a sale group of livestock." Leachman and Verified Beef also complain that because the ASA offers its Feeder Profit Calculator to beef producers at no cost, the ASA is "placing unfair economic pressure" on Leachman and Verified Beef which prevents them from "acquiring prospective customers." As a result, Leachman and Verified Beef request an unstated amount of punitive damages against the ASA and that the ASA "immediately cease offering [its] products . . . [to] the cattle industry."
In response to the suit, ASA Executive Vice President Wade Shafer stated that Leachman and Verified Beef "seek a monopoly on genetic prediction through a questionable patent and we will not sit idly by and let them take control of something we and others in our industry have been doing for a long time. The ASA will not be deterred from protecting the rights of the beef industry and ASA members against monopolistic claims from Leachman, Verified Beef or others. We believe that the cattle industry has advanced through science to the benefit of everyone. We are committed to making sure that scientific advancement for the good of all, and not just for the profit of a few, remains our goal."
There is significant prior art in relation to dollar value indexes, most published in scientific journals with one of the first papers published in 1943. I'm surprised Leachman received this patent and I will be watching to see what the courts decide.

For more information about Reputation Feeder Cattle® and Genetic Merit Scorecard®, see here and here.

For more information about Feeder Profit Calculator see here.

UPDATED 5/15/2014
I received an email from Lee Leachman containing their statement about the suit, click here to see Leachman and Verified Beef Statments.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cattlemen's Boot Camp at Mizzou
Registration now open for July 14-15 event

Cattle producers are invited to gather for a Cattlemen’s Boot Camp July 14-15, at the University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.

The event is hosted by the American Angus Association® in partnership with the University of Missouri, and provides purebred and commercial producers timely information presented by academic and industry professionals.

Open to all cattle producers, the event is funded by the Angus Foundation and features a day and a half of educational speakers and hands-on activities to help improve their herd operations. The workshop is packed with pertinent information including bull selection, genomically-enhanced expected progeny differences (EDPs), antibiotic labeling, reproduction practices and more.

“Cattlemen’s Boot Camps are not only a great way to learn about various aspects of beef cattle production, but also provide producers the opportunity to exchange and share new ideas and perspectives,” says Milford Jenkins, Angus Foundation president. “Education is an important component of the Angus Foundation’s funding efforts, and this particular event is one that the Foundation is proud to support.”

Registration is $75 per person, and includes meals and educational materials. Registration forms are due June 27 and can be submitted electronically or mailed to Ashley Mitchell at the American Angus Association, 3201 Frederick Ave., Saint Joseph, MO, 64506. Late and walk-in registrations are not accepted.

Hotel rooms are available at the Hampton Inn for $109. To reserve a room, call 573-214-2222 and ask for the American Angus Association rate or use group code AAA.

To register, click here or visit for more information.

Click here for a tentative schedule and follow this blog for more updates about the Boot Camp.

Monday, May 12, 2014

American Simmental Associations updates TraitTrac system
Works to more accurately reflect biology of genetic conditions

The American Simmental Association continues to adjust their management and reporting of genetic defects and abnormalities. From their eNews newsletter:
At the April board meeting, the ASA Board of Trustees voted unanimously to remove the color system from TraitTrac and add all genetic conditions with available tests into our TraitTrac system (including the most recent condition, developmental duplication). While the existing TraitTrac has worked well for years, it gives a false impression that "green" animals are clear of genetic defects - they are only clear of the ones we know about. Furthermore, this gives us flexibility to add new conditions to TraitTrac relatively simply as they are discovered. In the new TraitTrac system, the main animal page says "TraitTrac" if an animal has no results on any genetic conditions. If the statement "Check for available results" appears under "TraitTrac" then there is additional information on this animal. Click on the "Check" text to go to the TraitTrac page for that particular animal. The TraitTrac page lists all results on all genetic conditions for that particular animal.
Each genetic condition has an abbreviation (legend included) and an abbreviation for the animal status for each condition (same as before; TF = Tested Free, PF = Parentage Free, DF = Documented Free, AF = Assumed Free, HC = Homozygous Carrier, TC = Tested Carrier, DC = Documented Carrier, CL = Carrier in Lineage, DL = Documented Carrier in Lineage, or PR = Population Risk). As before, when ASA receives test results on a particular animal, TraitTrac will update the status for that particular animal and also populate the results for their progeny. In other words, if an animal is tested free for DD, the animal will be updated as tested free (TF) and all the animal's progeny will be updated to recognize parentage free (if both parents are free). On the other hand, progeny of a tested carrier animal will all have carrier in lineage unless the progeny has test results themselves.

 In summary, the new TraitTrac system will work much like the old system except there is no color associated with the status of the animal. All known genetic conditions with available tests will be included in TraitTrac including developmental duplication. This means that genetic holds may appear on some animals that were clear previously if there is a risk of the condition in the lineage. In the TraitTrac page, test results on an individual animal will be stated in text for each condition with an expandable pedigree. This system will provide information to the membership and public to make sound breeding decisions with test results on known genetic conditions.
I am glad to see that they are striving to help producers see that all cattle are carriers of something. I also respect that the ASA is striving to help cattle buyers understand the risk of an animal carrying a known genetic defect by reporting an animal status.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Quality Beef by the Numbers:
Spring 2014 Update
Guest post by Mike Kasten

To say the last two years in the cattle business have been interesting is an understatement. We have gone from record losses to record profits. Last fall, everywhere I went, people said “There is no way to make money feeding cattle at these prices.” The prevailing thought was “SELL THEM. Don’t pass go, take the money, don’t hesitate, SELL THEM NOW!” Conventional coffee shop, off-the-cuff wisdom is seldom based on fact. As I write this update, we have data on three pens of QB cattle.

Below is a summary of some important numbers from those pens.


Average per head profit
Average per head profit on Prime cattle

Profit per head                                       TOP
Profit per head                              BOTTOM
Number of animals that lost money

Sale value per head                               TOP

Percentage of cattle above average profit

Harvest weight                                       TOP

Weight into feed-yard                           TOP

Average Daily Gain                                TOP

As I analyze the data, several things jump out at me.

First, in all pens the most profitable cattle graded prime. Quality grade was the main profit driver for all three pens.

Second, the variation within the pens was very significant. There are gross sale differences of $1,052.31, $1,005.80 and $602.71. There are profit differences top to bottom of $788.74, $602.09 and $459.25 in their respective pens.

Knowing and having the data to make good decisions has value. Identifying the cattle in the top third and the bottom third of both of these pens has tremendous potential.  Implementing this information into your genetic selection process means more long term profits for your operation. Tying this data to individual cows and sires becomes a must do task. Taking the time to gather the cattle records to do this will be the biggest financial return on your time you will ever receive.

I have visited all the QB participant operations. The one thing I will state without reservation is that everyone’s cattle are already at or near the top in the industry. I cannot think of a better time to find out how your cattle will perform in the feed-yard and in the packing plant.

We have seen record profits the last five years in the row crop industry.  What have the producers done with the profits?  If you are in this category, what have you done with your profits?  It has been my observation; row crop producers have invested the profits in new equipment, new technologies and better management practices. Certainly a good decision, so they are prepared when prices aren't so good. I will submit to you that now is the time for beef producers to do the same.  We have several good years ahead of us. Discovering how your cattle perform and grade should be a top priority.  Determining which cows are paying the bills and which ones are sending you a bill should be a top priority. This knowledge will serve you well now, when prices are high and even more when prices go down or costs go up.

To those in the “no way you can make money” crowd, please study the data above.  Look at the value differences within these groups of cattle. It’s an easy conclusion to come to, that your target should be fast efficient gaining cattle that grade prime. First, you have to find out how many cattle you have that are already hitting that target and the correlating sires and dams. Second, determine the ones that are not performing and let someone else own them. You will be rewarded for the effort.

We currently have 14,000 cows enrolled in the QB program. We have harvested three pens of cattle and as of this writing there are seven more pens in the feed-yard.  Everyone with fall calves should be thinking about placing those cattle this summer or early fall.

Breeding season is a good time to compile your cow list. Calving is over for some and some are just starting. Now is the time to compile calving lists and calving data. Email me for a copy of all the data collection forms QB offers. I suggest duplicating the forms. If you do not have the resources to duplicate, I’m happy to mail you more copies.

On a closing note, I want to propose something for you to think about - If the same person keeps coming back to buy your cattle every year, DO THEY KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR CATTLE THAN YOU DO?

Mike Kasten
QB Program Director