With apologies to twins and 4-person bobsled, the best things come in threes. For proof, look no further than EnVigour HX™, the latest example of how a Genome Alberta project is applying genomics to improve meat quality and feed efficiency in beef cattle. By combining parentage verification, genomic breed composition, and a simple Vigour Score (assessment of hybrid vigour), EnVigour HX™ is benefiting producers and causing a buzz in the beef industry.
“This is the first genomic tool for cross-breed cattle developed in Canada,” said Michelle Miller, Chief Executive Officer for Delta Genomics. “It’s also the only product to do what it does by providing three services in one package.”
“What’s neat about this is that if we can verify the calf to the sire, we can estimate the dam for free and get her information without testing her.”
It’s a good way to know which bulls are having the most influence in your herd and producing calves, and which ones are “just hanging out in the pasture”. As well, it helps avoid in-breeding by preventing the daughters from going back with the sires.
“Some work out of the Western Beef Development Centre said it costs $1800 to maintain a herd sire each year, so it better be producing $1800 worth of weaned calves or it’s not earning its keep.”
Genomic breed composition analysis
“The big application we see here is being able to balance the proportion of breeds that each producer wants on their farm. Anyone cross-breeding makes choices based on the positive attributes they’re seeking. This tool provides breed composition so you can identify the breeds that are closest to your ideal and match your males and females to ensure the offspring are producing what you want.”
“One of the most interesting patterns we see with vigor score is that for every 10 per cent increase in the score, you get a 2 per cent boost in pregnancy rate. If you have 100 cows with a score of 30 per cent and 100 at 40 per cent, you can expect two more cows to be pregnant in the latter group, which means two less that you have to replace.”
Also, every 10 per cent increase in vigor score brings a 3 per cent rise in weaning rate. That adds up to three more weaned calves each year and, since weaned calves are how producers get paid, three more sources of income to bolster the bottom line.
“In our case study with high and low vigor groups, the higher group produced $81,000 more in income over 5 years, averaging $160/cow per year.”
If it’s true that “necessity is the mother of invention”, researchers may have hit the mother lode with EnVigour HX™.
“The main goal with the Genome Alberta project is developing genomically-enhanced gEPD’s that are accurate in cross-bred cattle. To do that, we had to determine breed composition beforehand, and when we gave that information to producers in the research project they found it really interesting. When we also saw a correlation between economically relevant traits and vigor score, industry was even more excited.”
For Miller, that excitement is justified.
“First and foremost, this project and EnVigour HX™ expands genomics through the beef value chain. While before it was just the purebred guys and gals doing genomic tests, we can now move that genetic information to the commercial sector, and that’s significant.”
So do good things really come in threes?
Count on it.