Predicting a stronger cattle industry


Megan Silveira, Freelance Writer, Tri-State Livestock News

January 4, 2019


In today's world, it is more common for cattlemen to be seen struggling with the cord of a computer mouse rather than an actual lasso. With the help of modern technology, both seedstock and commercial cattlemen in the beef industry have been able to improve their herds through the use of genetic prediction.


Mark Johnson, associate professor and faculty supervisor of the Purebred Beef Cattle Center at Oklahoma State University, says genetic prediction is the use of collected data and statistical analysis in beef cattle to predict how future offspring will perform for a specific trait.


Through the accumulation of data of quantitative traits (yearling weights, weaning weights, marbling scores, etc.), Johnson says cattlemen are able to predict the traits of future calf crops based on the sire chosen. He claims genetic prediction is one of the reasons the cattle industry has been able to become more efficient over the years.


Dr. Robert Weaber, professor and cow-calf extension specialist at Kansas State University, says studying animals on a genotypical level through the use of indexes was far from normal before the early 2000s. EPDs became popular in the early 1980s, and before then, ranchers used to make breeding decisions on phenotypical traits alone.


Nowadays, ranchers utilize a "sophisticated approach for optimization," Weaber says. With this approach, he says producers aim to breed for progeny with the ability to hit peak levels of performance in their environment.


As the technology of today is constantly improving, Johnson says so is genetic prediction. He says ranchers are now able to incorporate practices like DNA-typing and DNA markers to find specific genes in animals to create calves with desirable traits.


"DNA markers have recently changed the game and taught us to think more broadly about genetic improvement," Weaber says.


Weaber says tools like genetic prediction are becoming more and more valuable on an industry-wide level every day. Selection indexes are becoming generalized across the breed spectrum, a move Weaber believes is helping cattle producers see improved rates of progress in identifying desirable genes in livestock.


But this movement to join as an industry for the betterment of an overall product is not just happening at the breed level. With genetic prediction, all types of cattle operations are striving to breed for more efficient livestock.


Johnson says seedstock producers have to "think bigger picture" when it comes to genetic prediction. He believes these breeders have a responsibility to the entire industry compared to commercial operations, as genetics from seedstock producers reach a broader audience.


On the other hand, Weaber says commercial producers are learning to look at their selection decisions based on how their choices will impact the rest of the production chain.


In an industry formerly focused on the end product, Weaber says beef producers are learning to find the happy medium between both end products and cow performance. This new-found strategy is resulting in an overall more efficient industry made up of higher performing cattle...