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Dr. Jamie Courter is your Mizzou Beef Genetics Extension Specialist

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By Jared E. Decker Many of you have probably noticed that things have been a lot less active on the A Steak in Genomics™   blog, but you probably haven't known why. In January 2021, I was named the Wurdack Chair in Animal Genomics at Mizzou, and I now focus on research, with a little bit of teaching. I no longer have an extension appointment. But, with exciting news, the blog is about to become a lot more active! Jamie Courter began as the new MU Extension state beef genetics specialist in the Division of Animal Sciences on September 1, 2023. I have known Jamie for several years, meeting her at BIF when she was a Masters student. I have been impressed by Jamie in my interactions with her since that time.  Dr. Courter and I have been working closely together the last 6 weeks, and I am excited to work together to serve the beef industry for years to come! Jamie holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from North Carolina State University and earned a master's degree in animal

A Genomics Bull Buying Guide – The Value of Accuracy

In the last blog post, I defined Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs), the accuracy of said EPD, and the percentile rank. An EPD is an estimate of the genetic merit an animal will pass on to its progeny, on average. They can be used to sort animals according to their potential to make genetic change within a herd, or when making bull buying decisions. A percentile rank simply reports where the specific EPD for that animal ranks across the entire breed from 1 (top) to 100 (bottom). While I touched on the value of genomics and how it increases accuracy, to do that justice really takes a separate post – so here goes.

Remember, EPD stands for ‘Expected’ Progeny Difference. In other words, it is the evaluation’s best assortation of an animal’s genetic merit based on the information available at the time. Traditionally, that would be the animal’s (assumed) pedigree, phenotype data, and progeny information. In the case of young sires, sometimes that can be limited simply due to their age.

Accuracy, reported on a scale of 0 to 1, is an estimate of the confidence that the EPD provided is the ‘true’ EPD of the animal. As more progeny records and phenotypes on an animal are reported, evaluations inherently know more about that animal. This results in the EPD fluctuating up and down over time, as the accuracy increases.

Now enter in genomic testing. Simply taking a DNA sample on an animal takes an EPD and makes it ‘Genomically Enhanced’. But what does that mean? Well now, instead of assuming that a sire is 25% related to each of his grandparents, now the evaluation has an exact understanding of which pieces of DNA he inherited from whom, and how that DNA impacts the phenotypes that animal will produce. This additional information then increases the accuracy of the EPD.

But still – what does an increase in accuracy mean? Let me give you an example:

Figure 1. Comparing accuracies of bulls with and without a genomic test

 

Birthweight (BW)

 

Bull A

Bull B

EPD

-1.7

-1.7

ACC

0.39

0.15

Percentile Rank

3%

3%

 Figure 2. The impact of accuracy on the 95% confidence interval and possible range of “true” EPDs

Figure 1 is meant to help picture what is meant by ‘increased confidence’ in an EPD with increased accuracy. The image includes birth weight (BW) EPD information for two different yearling bulls. Notice that while they have the same EPD for BW (-1.7 lbs), thus the same percentile rank in the breed (3%), the accuracy is higher for Bull A than Bull B. This is because Bull A has been genotyped while Bull B has not. Just looking at their respective EPDs, both animals would be considered ‘calving ease’ bulls and would be purchased as such. However, remember that EPDs are a prediction, and can change over time. Therefore the second image (Figure 2) represents the possible range (95% confidence interval) of ‘true’ EPDs for both Bull A and Bull B, given their respective accuracies. Notice how much smaller the range is for Bull A compared to Bull B. Genomic testing, which results in a higher accuracy, helps reduce the risk to the buyer and allows them to confidently purchase a heifer bull, knowing the seedstock producer has done everything possible to ensure he is indeed a heifer bull.

In my opinion, accuracies are the second-most important number to consider when selecting a bull for purchase. As more information is reported, be it in the form of phenotype records or DNA, that estimate can move up or down as the accuracy of the prediction increases. However, the take home message here is that the amount of potential movement decreases as the accuracy increases.

Risk vs. Reward – How much value to you place on accuracy compared to genetic potential?

Unfortunately, increased accuracy of an EPD doesn’t equate to “better” genetic potential. Just as often as an EPD for a trait will increase as a result of genetic testing or additional phenotype information, it is just as likely to decrease. Hence why it is most beneficial to purchase yearling bulls who have already had a genomic profile added to the evaluation. Being the equivalent of anywhere from 3 to 30+ progeny or a 7% to 17% increase in accuracy, depending on the trait, a genomic test can add almost an entire calf crop worth of information to the prediction, reducing the likelihood of an EPD shifting over time.

The question for the commercial bull buyer, however, is what is the value of that increased confidence to you? Yes, increased accuracy reduces the risk of the EPD changing over time, but that must always be balanced with the EPD on the animal and how much “risk” you’re willing to take. For example, if there are two bulls being considered, one with a WW EPD of +68 lbs and another with a WW EPD of +58 lbs but with a genomic profile on file, which would you choose? A more risk averse person would likely prefer to purchase the second bull with the lower WW EPD because they are more confident in the certainty of the prediction, while a producer who is willing to accept a bit more risk would see the value in purchasing the first bull understanding that 30 calves at +10 lbs of WW is over 300 lbs of added value, assuming the EPD prediction doesn’t change over time. This is the push and pull of understanding the value of the information available to you and being able to use it as a tool to make more informed decisions.

In my opinion a bull with a genomic test, no matter the difference in EPD, is more advantageous than one without. But mainly because of the large leap in confidence that we see in the accuracy as a result. The true take home message here is to not split hairs over small differences in that value, especially as a result of a few progeny records being added to the evaluation on older, proven bulls. As with anything, the values placed on these animals are a tool to help provide insight and expectation to an otherwise unknown outcome. It is up to you to decide what value you place on specific pieces of the puzzle and how much ‘change’ or risk you’re willing to accept.

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