Testing tools can improve breeding stock

CALGARY — Building better beef begins with better breeding animals and technology now enables producers to identify those animals through more thorough genetic testing.

Expected progeny differences, or EPDs, are a common tool used in selecting breeding stock for commercial herds. Genomic enhanced EPDs can provide even better predictions of progeny and allow producers to select animals to improve specific traits within their herds.

Lance Leachman of Big Gully Farms near Maidstone, Sask., uses those tools and others to breed stock attractive to commercial producers. He described some of his techniques at last month’s Canadian Beef Industry Conference in Calgary.

“Genomic tests in general have been a benefit to our operation in trying to develop cattle that we are more confident in, at a younger age, as to how they will carry on from a genetic standpoint to the next generation, whether it be used by us or by commercial producers,” Leachman said in an interview.

A high-density genetic test costs about $75 and analyzes about 70,000 genetic markers. The low-density test costs about $40 and checks 30,000 markers.

The former provides a higher degree of confidence but even the lower density option provides data on the potential heritability of such things as birthweight, weaning weight, calving ease and other traits.

Coupled with general EPD data, it provides good predictions about the offspring of breeding animals.

“We can make deductions about young cattle without having any progeny on the ground,” said Leachman.

“The inferior ones may never have progeny… and perhaps the ones that we do like from a genomic standpoint will be used even heavier than they might have been otherwise.”

Leachman said many commercial producers use basic EPD information but just as many are not aware of the benefits.

“I think it’s the responsibility of purebred breeders to try and make it simpler, make sure that they understand it, but also take some of the responsibility for trying to breed animals that maybe excel for a variety of traits.

“Then the commercial producer who’s maybe purchasing them doesn’t have to have as intricate a knowledge of each trait or doesn’t have to try and come up with the animals that are going to work for their particular operation from a trait standpoint.”

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