BIF 2018: Focus on Traits Not Considered

Dorian Garrick
Professor and Chief Scientist, Massey University

This is a one bull or two bull meeting. This means it cost about the profit from one or two bulls to pay for the attendence of this meeting. Beef producers need to leave this meeting with information and thoughts about how they will change and improve their operation.

We would like to think that you use index selection, but we know that you are probably using independent culling levels or phenotypic selection. However, we can look at genetic trends to see how traits have changed.

Weaning weight and yearling weights have increased over time. However, the rate at which these growth traits were changing slowed in 1990, when ultrasound carcass measures were introduced. So, Hereford breeders were still selecting for growth, but were also putting emphasis on other traits.

An average 2017-born daughter eats $57 more feed per year than an average 1980 daughter. This possibly outweighs improvement in terminal profitability. Mature weights are increasing by 10 pounds per year.

What do you measure?
Calving traits (calving ease scores and birth weight)
Early growth traits (weaning weight and yearling weight)
Reproduction
Ultrasound predictions of carcass traits
Mature Cow weights and condition scores
Actual Carcass characteristics
Actual feed intake
As we move down this list, we have a decreasing number of records.

We need to have a goal.
With that goal, what do you want to change? This is your breeding objective. A breeding objective is a list of traits (EPDs) and their economic value. Identifying the list of goals is easy. When we look at the economics value, we realize that some traits are indicator traits and not economically important.

You then need to look at the selection criteria. What traits are you measuring to produce EPDs?

You then need a breeding scheme, a dissemination system, a mating plan, and than an economic analysis. In this economic analysis we think about the overall benefits and the overall costs of this breeding program. The most expensive breeding program is likely not to be the most profitable breeding program.

So, what should our breeding objective be, what traits are we selecting?
reproduction and longevity
income over feed cost
animal welfare
environmental footprint

We have done a good job on income over feed costs (growth, marbling, calving ease, etc.) We do a very poor job on the rest of this list. The tangible traits like growth and calving ease smack us in the face when they are bad. The less tangible traits like reproduction or cow efficiency receive less intention.

Why aren't traits being adequately considered?
Not selecting on total merit indexes (e.g. for maternal systems)
Not measuring enough of the less tangible attributes
Cannot be measured

Value proposition
Among bull breeding sector
Too many animals being recorded
Not enough traits being recorded
Not being rewarded by bull buyers (price or demand for less tangible traits)
Breed association structure might be impeding innovation
-routine EPDs provided on all animals regardless of phenotypic measurement or not

How might more balanced selection occur?

  • New technologies
  • Subsidies by government (USDA grants are an indirect example of this)
  • Local regulations
  • Market requirements

New business structures to capture value (small collectives on like minded breeders)

Reproduction and Longevity
Inadequate use of puberty data
Inadequate use of post-partum anestrus interval

Feed Cost
Forage intake (behavioral aspects - walking distance - grazing time -sward selection)
Feedlot intake
Complex trait where animals can rank differently based on sex, diet, etc.

Animal welfare
Disease resistance

Environmental footprint
Urinary nitrogen excretion
Greenhouse gases
Soil Damage

New Zealand now has limits on amount of urinary nitrogen that can be excreted by a farm.
We can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that an animal releases.

We want to move the cloud. We need to think about traits that are underrepresented (reproduction, animal welfare, environment).

We really need to improve the efficiency of beef production.
Selection is a proven and cost-effective mechanism for improvement. Needs to be based on whole-system indexes. The best way to do this would be to look at indexes and nothing else.

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