“Vim and vigour” is a welcome addition to any event. For Genome Alberta researchers, however, it was the chance to share the wonders of EnVigour HX™ with producers that made the 3rd Annual Canadian Beef Industry Conference – Aug 14-16 in London, Ontario – so memorable. As the first genomic tool for crossbred cattle developed in Canada, EnVigour HX™ is the latest example of how research is applying genomics to improve meat quality and feed efficiency in beef cattle.
“This year’s theme was ‘Driving Demand’, and there were people from all parts of the beef value chain,” said Dawn Trautman, Director of Knowledge Translation & Project Manager with Livestock Gentec.
Posters, producers and profits
“One of our contributions to the conference was submitting a poster about EnVigour HX™, which meant we also had a chance to talk with individual producers and colleges across Canada who were interested in our research.”
For those who aren’t familiar with EnVigour HX™ (and there seem to be fewer and fewer of them these days), it is currently causing a buzz in the beef industry by combining parentage verification, genomic breed composition and a simple Vigour Score (assessment of hybrid vigour). The poster presentation helped inform producers of the many benefits of EnVigour HX™ and its role in building a profitable, dynamic Canadian cattle and beef industry on a number of fronts:
Productivity: Improving cattle production efficiency with genetic selection for economically important traits (e.g., lifetime productivity, fertility).
Competitiveness: Reducing cost disadvantages by optimizing feed intake, average daily gain, yield, breed assignment, and mating design for Canadian cow-calf herds.
Connectivity: Connecting academic, industry and government groups at home and internationally.
Beef Demand: Increasing yields with fewer inputs and enhancing the Canadian Beef Advantage.
Going forward: Continuing to drive innovation using genomic technologies for the benefit of the cattle and beef industry.
While the poster was a strong communication tool around EnVigour HX™, another old-fashioned method was equally effective: conversation.
“We chatted with a lot of producers about how to maximize the benefits of EnVigour HX™ with their herds, and it was nice to see their interest in both the poster and the project,” said Trautman.
From some early adopters of this technology, there were questions on the break-even point for their investment.
“With producers who may be a bit over eager to apply EnVigour HX™, we told them they don’t have to test every animal. If there’s a heifer without good legs or udder, for example, you won’t be keeping her for structural reasons, so there’s no need to test her. By being selective and focusing only on the animals you plan to keep, you can ensure the biggest bang for the buck.”
Other questions concerned the types of breeds that will be included with EnVigour HX™, the best vigor score to target, and how best to use the information to optimize breeding strategies for specific breeding goals.
“We reminded them that you don’t want a hodgepodge of breeds just to get a better vigor score; rather, you should focus on targeted breeding objectives.”
Apart from the “how” aspect of applying EnVigour HX™, the poster presentation also answered a fundamental question: Why should I care about high vigour?
Among other things, high vigour improves lifetime productivity by up to 36%, increases yield grade and pre-weaning average daily gain, and optimizes bull selection and mating strategies. Selecting for a cow herd with high hybrid vigour results in more calves born alive and weaned, and lower replacement heifer costs due to lower culling rate, both worth $161 per cow per year compared to a cow herd with low hybrid vigour.
“Things like increased weaning weights and better average daily gain are significant as they really help producers make the most of their feeding strategies.”