Genomics in Beef Cattle

Genomics in Beef Cattle: Select for the Unseen Traits

Generations of cattlemen have selected heifers to be retained to join the cow herd through visual appraisal, using intrinsic knowledge to identify the animals with the most favorable traits that fit future herd goals. While that process worked well, usually there were a few heifers that just didn’t make the cut for one reason or another. They had the look of a good potential brood cow, but they just didn’t perform as expected.

Through the use of genomics, cow calf producers can use reliable information to enhance their own visual appraisal. Producers can choose replacement females based on the traits unseen by the trained eye to enhance the accuracy of their own selection decisions.

Improved Heifer Selection

Genomics have been available to seedstock producers for more than 10 years. This has enabled commercial cow calf producers to choose bulls based on data supported with genomic information. These genomically-enhanced EPDs (GEPDs) improved the accuracy of bull selection to help improve genetic progress. Recent developments have made genomic technology available to commercial cattlemen to make more informed decision about heifer selection to make even faster genetic improvement.     

More and more commercial beef producers have seen the value in using genomic technology. On his ranch near Cheyenne, Oklahoma, Jimmy Taylor made the decision several years ago to change his breeding program to incorporate genomic traits. In 2010 he started buying bulls with GEPDs, which instantly improved accuracy. “This meant the numbers we were looking at with those EPDs were six to seven times more accurate than without the genomically-enhanced EPDs,” says Taylor.

Taylor started using genomic technology in 2016 to make decisions on females to be added to his 600-cow herd. “The test enables me to know how each of my females rank against all animals tested down to the percent,” says Taylor. “So I know which one of those traits they’re week in and which ones they are strong in, and I can help them in those areas where they are weak.”

Taylor has a system for keeping track of data on his herd, and that data shows how using genomics has made an impact. Traits like calving ease maternal, weaning weight, gain, carcass weight and others have improved. Even antagonistic traits have improved. For instance, marbling has improved 24% while external fat has decreased. Weaning weight and carcass weight have improved, but calving ease has improved as well.

“By using genomics, we’ve made progress in every area that we would want to and kept other traits at optimum levels,” says Taylor. While improvement has been made on replacement females, their steer mates did well in the feedlot, too. Tracking back to 2012, percent prime was at 19.5%. In 2018, 70% of steers hit prime, while ribeye area went from 12.71 to just over 14.

“The more data I have, the better job I can do as a manger. If I have a number to work with, I can improve on that number and genomic testing takes the guesswork out of the equation,” Taylor says. “We develop every animal like we’re going to serve it at our own table. When a consumer gets one of these they’re going to have a good eating experience, which will in turn create more demand.”

Jimmy Taylor and four other beef experts were part of a Bovinews webinar “Making Better Beef with Genomics.” You can hear more from Taylor and the other experts here.

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