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Dr. Jamie Courter is your Mizzou Beef Genetics Extension Specialist

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

Breeding for a More Efficient and Profitable Commercial Cow

 Troy Rowan presented at the Kentucky Beef Efficiency Conference, January 5th, 2023.

Since 1970, we are producing the same amount of beef with fewer cows. The beef industry is a plant based meat.

In our selection, we often focus on the end of the year revenue. However, much of what impacts our profitability is on the cost side of the equation. If we are going to select for a single trait, that single trait has to be profitability. Which traits matter to our bottom line? We often think about things in terms of cow units. But, what really pushes our production is our forage resources. Can we make our cows more efficient at turning those forage resources into a marketable product?

What does a profitable cow look like? "A profitable cow is an efficient cow," says Rowan. There are lots of different ways to be inefficient and efficient. An efficient cow is:

  • Moderate Mature Size
  • Maintenance Requirement
  • Milk
  • Fertility
  • Longevity
  • Structural Soundness
  • Udder structure
  • Emissions

"The return on investment of an open cow is depressingly low." -- Unknown source

 The easiest way to improve all of these cow efficiency traits is to CROSSBREED!

There is a two-fold advantage of crossbreeding, breed complementarity and heterosis. Breed complementarity allows us to align multiple breed strengths, such as growth and fertility or environmental adaptability. 

In corn breeding, we get a very consistent and productive product by crossing inbreeding lines to get a very productive plant. We can't completely inbred cattle like corn, but we can still see improvement from crossbreeding. We see the biggest improvement from crossbreeding (heterosis) for lowly heritable traits such as maternal ability, reproduction, health, immune function, etc.

Less than 50% of commercial herds crossbred! This is our industries last free lunch.

The next easiest way to improve cow efficiency is to buy the right bull. Bull selection plays an outsized role in genetic progress. In a one bull herd, our last three bull purchases account for 87.5% (on average) of the genetics in your calf crop! 

Can we make breeding decisions that increase forage-based cow efficiency? This is a multi-faceted problem. There are lots of EPDs to balance and juggle at once. We have to do multi-trait selection. Multiple trait selection is hard. 

  • Many traits matter
  • They matter in different amounts
  • Traits may be correlated with each other
  • Input costs change, altering trait's importance
  • Variation in each operation's selection goals
If you just select for calving ease and weaning weight, you end up with big cows that eat a lot. 
Luckily, we have tools for this. Economic selection indexes are EPDs for Profit. Instead of looking at a difference in pounds, we look at a difference in dollars.
Selection indexes take care of beneficial and antagonistic genetic correlations. This allows us to keep all of the traits moving in the right direction. 
Economic selection indexes allow us to select for profitable, forage-based cow-calf production, e.g. $M in Angus.
In Red Angus HerdBuilder index, Stayability is the most heavily weighted trait because that trait influences our profitability the most.
For the Angus $B index, there is no emphasis on cow-calf traits. Using $B to select females is like forcing a square peg into a round hole. However, $M and $C are great for cow-herd profitablity.

If we can measure a traits, we can make genetic predictions. If we make genetic predictions we can make genetic progress. 
The Angus database is adding almost 200,000 genotypes per year. This means that phenotype records are now the most valuable data. 
"In the age of genomics, phenotype is king." -- Mike Coffey

There is a tug of war between genetic potential and resource availability. If we have high genetic potential that uses too many resources, that doesn't work. If we have animals that use few resources, but simply don't produce, that doesn't work either. We need to balance productivity and resource use. 

We still have a way to go to complete the picture of cow efficiency. Precision livestock technologies will help us measure many of these hard to measure traits. Based on genetic predictions, we will also be able to precisely manage cattle. 

Dr. Rowan discussed use of their GreenFeed system to measure gas emissions from cattle and using this to measure metabolic rate. Heat production accounts for 73% of Residual Feed Intake in a feedlot setting. These gas fluxes may allow us to measure feed intake in a pasture setting. 


Joe C. Paschal said…
Troy and you, Jared, make some excellent points but I'll add that tropical adaptation will be be a "must have", whether climate change is real or not, beef production will be moving south.
Joe C. Paschal
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