Simmental initiative gathers genetics to improve breed

REGINA — Sorting cattle that can convert five pounds of feed into a pound of beef from those that need twice the amount of feed is among the goals of a genetics research project. 


The Canadian Simmental Association has almost completed a $3.5 million initiative to genetically detect the most fertile, most feed efficient and best meat animals. 


The work started in 2011, and the plan is to genotype the most influential Sim-mental sires to fit that piece of the puzzle into breeding programs. 


As well, Livestock Gentec and the University of Alberta are working with Beefbooster Inc. and Deseret Ranches of Alberta to analyze cattle. 


The two groups already had extensive phenotypic performance records that could be tied into the array of information derived from DNA.


“As our genetic tools get better, that accuracy will improve even higher so at weaning we could have calves that will make good feeding cattle and we shouldn’t keep them as young breeding bulls, and these females are going to make really good cows because they have high fertility and high feed efficiency,” said beef researcher John Basarab, who works with Livestock Gentec. 


The Simmental initiative included genotyping as well as practical work such as meat quality research.


“At the end of the day we are a food product,” said Sandy Russell, who has been working with the Sim-mental association. 


Part of the research included rib dissection by collecting samples at packing plants, she told a genomics conference held during Canadian Western Agribition .


Researchers measured total weight and assessed lean weight, subcutaneous fat, seam fat, bone and body fat. It is hoped that more detailed genetic information will allow producers to separate good performers from poor ones. The industry also wants to build custom made genetic panels that more closely align with what the breed can do. 


“We knew there are breed variations. We knew some of the commercial panels were not working for our breed,” Russell said.


Breeders have not been completely in the dark because they have had predictions from expected progeny differences, which uses traits to produce a statistic to estimate how a bull’s offspring may turn out.


One of the problems is that many people do not understand the final numbers, said Kajal Devani, director of breed development for the Canadian Angus Association.


EPDs are calculated using phenotypic information such as birth, weaning and yearling weight. It is a prediction of genetic merit that includes the performance of the parents and the offspring. The pedigrees need to be correct because the EPD numbers are irrelevant if there is a mistake.


Genomics have helped verify parentage because at times pedigrees are incorrect, she said.


Another challenge is that beef producers lag behind other meat producing groups.


“We have made a significant amount of difference based on these tools and unfortunately the competition has made better use of these tools and has made stronger strides in production efficiencies that are incomparable to us,” she said.

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