Genomics and commercial cattle production
One day commercial and seedstock producers will be able to cost effectively DNA their own animals, says Sandy Russell of Spring Creek Land and Cattle Consulting.
And although producers might not genotype their animals right now, they can prepare for the day when they’re ready to invest in the technology.
“If you’re putting your cattle through the chute, and these are key animals in your herd, pull a few tail hairs, put them in an envelope, store it in your office. That day will come when you may want to do DNA on an animal that was influential in your herd and they may be gone out of your herd,” says Sandy.
Sandy has been working with the Canadian Simmental Association on genomics research (for details read last week's post). She says the breed associations are moving towards genomically enhanced EPDs. “So that means that animal’s genotypic information has been blended into his current EPD and increased the accuracy.”
Sandy says using genomics is comparable to having five to 10 progeny, depending on how much genomic information is gathered and analyzed.
“It’s not a silver bullet but it’s one more tool in the tool box, I say, that allows producers to more accurately select their breeding stock and the bulls they want to utilize within their herds.”
Challenges to adoption
But before the industry can adopt genomics on a wide scale, they need to connect the seedstock and cow-calf sectors.
“That’s been a challenge for the industry for years,” says Sandy. For example, although EPDs have been around for 30 years, a lot of commercial producers don’t fully understand or use them when buying bulls.
“We’re still using a lot of visual appraisal (to) select bulls. That’s not a bad thing but there’s also some other tools you can use as well to help you make sure you’re making the right decisions.”
Focusing more on which genetics producers use in their herds will improve the end product. They are a key component of what ends up on the consumer’s plate, Sandy says.“Making those decisions more efficiently and effectively at the breeding level and the commercial cow-calf level is going to be key.”
Connecting breed associations to the commercial cow-calf producer, and education around genomics technology is important, says Sandy. But it’s not easy to do, especially given how busy beef producers are.
“We all have a million decisions to make every day. And so it’s hard to get that focus shifted.”
“But definitely (all the breed) associations are focusing on how they can communicate more effectively and provide service to not only their members who are purebred breeders, but the commercial cattle industry. And so you’re seeing a lot more innovative, unique ways of communicating with the commercial producer, which I think is helping to bridge that gap.”