Early results are in from the 2017 ASA Sire Test with the University of Illinois, and Shorthorn genetics look to be proving their mettle in a real-world commercial setting. Even though they are heavily involved in cow-calf research, the University of Illinois runs their cow herd as close to a no-nonsense commercial operation as you will find in any university system. It’s a great opportunity to work with cattle that are forced to work in tight breeding seasons, have quality udders, and maintain themselves while raising a calf on minimal supplementation. A special thanks to the breeders who participated in the 2017 Sire Test. Without your support, we wouldn’t be able to gather this valuable information that will help move the Shorthorn breed towards our goals of growing commercial acceptance for our cattle. From September 8- October 4, 151 Shorthorn-sired calves were born, with 91% of the calves born in the 17 day window from September 13- September 30. Using UI’s SimAngus cow herd resulted in 123 black-hided calves, 15 black calves with white markings/blue roans, and 13 red hided calves. These calves were raised without creep feed until weaning on February 14, 2018. After some time to precondition the cattle, they will be shipped to the UI Farm near the university campus this month, where they will go on feed. Data collection in this phase of the trial will include gain, feed efficiency, and eventually carcass data. Initial reports indicate that these weights stack up comparably to other calves within the UI herd, showcasing the value of Shorthorns as the British breed crossbreeding solution. Keep in mind that it can be difficult to draw any conclusions comparing groups of extremely small size. Having only 1 or 2 calves may not be a fair representation of a sire’s genetic capabilities. Unfortunately, nature didn’t bless us with perfect distribution of steer and heifer calves across all sires. Weaning weight data listed is adjusted to a 205 day weaning weight. All data has been uploaded to Digital Beef. We are working with UI to plan a field day in August. This will include a chance to see the cattle on feed, as well as educational presentations and fellowship with other Shorthorn breeders. Be sure to look for more information on this event in future issues of the Shorthorn Country. View Full Report Here!
American Rancher featuring Shorthorn Cattle
This is the most recent American Rancher featuring Shorthorn cattle. The ASA slogan ‘Performance with Purpose’ truly describes the Shorthorn breed and the breeders that raise Shorthorn cattle. Check it out!
Single-Step EPDs: Sounding Like a Broken Record
Have you ever been pulling out of your driveway, headed to church or to dinner, only to notice just before you leave that your cows are out? Well, our cows have gotten out again on our way to finalizing the single-step genetic evaluation using the new BOLT software. When the IGS team noticed an issue with the data submission systems in another breed, it had an effect on all of us that are members of the group. Now they are working on fixing the issues, and would like to do some test runs before releasing the information live to the breeders .Ideally, they would like to have four weekly test runs without errors in able to go live. Doing so will give IGS better opportunities to find and fix issues before releasing the improved run. It’s more important to the IGS team to get it done correctly than to just get it done. Their diligence to bringing us the best genetic evaluation in the industry should certainly be commended, even if we have to be patient a while longer.
With new technology comes a learning curve, and if you are a student like me, repetition is necessary to grasp the major concepts. Since there are some new changes with the transition to the single-step multi-breed genetic evaluation, we will discuss some of those a little further to drive home the significance.
With the move to the new single-step genetic evaluation, it has been noted the accuracy values you will see in the registry will be lower than values from the previous EPD runs. That certainly sounds confusing, but there is a method to the madness. When EPD calculations first began, there simply wasn’t enough computer power available to do the tabulations necessary to come up with the true accuracy of an EPD. Instead, the scientists of the day used a technique called the approximation method to come up with as good of a prediction of accuracy as the technology of the day could compute. Geneticists realized that while these approximations of accuracy were they best they could do at the time, they were probably a bit overinflated compared to the “true” accuracy of an EPD. Thanks to technology advancements, we are now able to process the tabulations that produce the truer accuracy value that wasn’t possible before. It will take some time to wrap our heads around bulls that were once listed at a 0.90 accuracy might now be closer to a 0.65, but remember that the newer, lower number is a better representation of the accuracy value. It’s like your neighbor’s fishing stories: If he told you he caught a 15 pounder (old method of accuracy calculation), in reality he probably caught a 10 or 12 pound fish (new single-step accuracy method)!
A neat feature of the new single-step genetic evaluation is how genomic data is handled during the calculations. We have already covered how the new system eliminates a step in the current process of calculating genomically-enhanced EPDs. What’s interesting is that with the new system, not only does genomic data affect the animal that has been genomically tested, but also related animals. If you have genomically tested your herd bull, then the information gathered from his genotype has an effect on his offspring’s EPDs, as well as half and full siblings and other closely related animals. That does not mean that just having DNA on your herd bulls is a good substitution for genotyping your replacement females or sale bulls. Obviously, having information on an animal’s own genomic profile will be more valuable than just having the sire DNA tested. After all, Dad’s genetics are only half the story! Testing the offspring gives you the full genomic story.
What To Expect From Genomic Testing
The new multi-breed genetic evaluation with the American Simmental Association has been a fairly smooth transition from a data and EPD perspective. Coupled with the database move to Digital Beef, there’s been a lot to digest in the last 12 months. Breeders have done a tremendous job of adopting and understanding the new breed averages and variation versus the old system. Likewise, your dedication to seeing that genomics is a tool in the box for all Shorthorn breeders has been incredible. On the other hand, much to our disappointment, the genomics ‘train’ has been an extremely slow ride with a number of stops, delays, and outright frustrations. Rest assured, the train is still on the tracks and headed in the right direction, albeit at a sluggish pace. This article should help prepare you for when the genomics train finally reaches the station. As well, it will offer insight for when utilizing genomics is a good idea versus other genetic selection tools already in your arsenal.
First of all, it is extremely important breeders understand genomic tests are not the ‘golden egg’ to beef production, maybe just the shiniest one of the dozen. Likewise, genomics cannot replace the need for collecting performance and carcass information on your herd. In reality, data submission is more important than ever to ensure that the money you invest in a genomic test is worth the spend. Like every other column on the paper, a genomic score is only as good as the data behind it, or in front of it (chronologically) in this case. Genomic tests are generated by taking information from higher accuracy animals, then using it to help predict the performance of young, low accuracy animals. As a result, genomics can only enhance the traits we already collect. For example, Shorthorn breeders will not be able to pull a hair or blood sample to enhance udder quality or docility until an EPD for those traits exists.
Which animals in my herd do I test? When do I collect and submit the samples?
In developing the tests, we asked for semen and/or DNA samples on older A.I. sires. Moving forward, there will be no reason to dig in the tank and test old genetics. Genomics cannot help the EPDs of high accuracy animals; they were used as the baseline for comparison to get the breed started towards genomic-enhanced EPDs. The true value of genomics is enhancing young animals not yet old enough to generate progeny, particularly daughters in production. Under the current system, a sire is 4-5 years old before performance data from his daughters can affect his EPD profile. A genomic test can fast forward some traits on the paper as if the bull already has 15 daughters in production! Young bulls or heifers that show promise can be tested as young as 1 month of age. If pulling hair, be sure that the root follicles or “root bulbs” come out with the hair strand. A blood sample may be better for extremely young cattle. Results from the genomic test may help breeders make decisions on how to manage or market that individual.
Many breeders collect DNA samples for genomic testing at either weaning or yearling. The cattle are in the chute, making the collection of hair or blood a part of the routine. Decisions can be made at a later date as to which animals actually get submitted; no need to submit DNA on critters headed to the cull pen or feedlot. In contrast, samples need to be submitted well in advance of printed sale catalogs. For example, if your bulls or females sell in March, submit the DNA in the fall so results enter the genetic evaluation and enhance the EPDs that typically come out in January.
What could I learn from the genomic information?
The days of stars and 1-10 scores for individual traits are gone. All genomic results are incorporated into the EPDs of the individual. It is important to note that genomics cannot “enhance” every trait on the paper equally. Unfortunately, some traits are largely controlled by the environment the calf endures; others are much more controlled by genetics. For example, the sex of the calf and the color of the hide are 100% controlled by genetics. No matter what we do to that animal from a management standpoint will not change the sex or the color of the calf at birth. On the other hand, a trait like Maternal Calving Ease EPD has a huge environmental component. How we feed, breed, and manage that cow can largely affect her ability to calve. However, genomics can play a significant role in this trait by offering genetic insight to the likelihood that a bull’s daughter will calve on their own. In a nutshell, the harder the trait is to measure, the more important genomics can become at enhancing the EPD.
Genomics also somewhat rely on the heritability of a trait. Heritability is the measure from 0 to 1 used to describe the level of genetic influence on the trait versus environment. Some look at heritability like a percentage of the phenotype that is ‘inherited’ by genetics. The higher the number, the more genetics influence the result. Marbling is a unique trait where genomics has been successful. Heritability for marbling is considered moderately heritable at approximately 0.30-0.35 for most breeds. A few small segments of the genome in some breeds do a very good job of predicting marbling, so the genomic test is successful. Other traits like Scrotal Circumference have very low heritability (0.10-0.15). If a genomic test can find markers that have a large influence on scrotal circumference, then the test has value. However, if scrotal circumference is truly controlled by thousands of gene segments, then the likelihood a genomic test is useful is very low. Breed to breed, genomics may show real promise for a trait in one breed, but be virtually useless in another breed. As a result, breed associations must independently develop and validate their own genomic tests.
Please don’t let the chart below overwhelm you; it can be very useful in understanding the effect genomics can have on an EPD. The Accuracy from 0 to 1 is down the left side. Individual EPDs are across the top. Keep in mind that some columns are not Shorthorn EPDs…yet. Most all pedigree estimate EPDs (the average of the sire and dam’s EPDs) come in under 0.10 Accuracy. Obviously, if the breeder reports calving ease, birth, weaning, and yearling data on the bull, the Accuracy for the bull’s growth traits can go up to roughly 0.35. Let’s use BW as an example. If you buy a yearling bull that is a +2.0 on BW EPD and his Accuracy is 0.10, the chart tells us that 68% of the time (1 standard deviation) the bull’s “true” EPD for BW will be between -0.7 and 4.7. And yes, 32% of the time, his true EPD could be even worse…or even better than that.
If the Shorthorn genomic test is run on that bull, his BW EPD may be +2.5 with an Accuracy of .40. Now, refer to the chart. The bull is now plus or minus 1.8, making his EPD likely between +0.7 and +4.3. We gain confidence that the bull is likely not a candidate for heifers. I would encourage you to enter the following link in your browser and read Dr. Scott Greiner’s article that further explains the chart.
Given our relatively small sample size, genomics for the Shorthorn breed will be an ongoing commitment from breeders of all sizes. The more performance data that gets submitted, the better the genomic tests can become. As an example, if we find a “rock star” bull for Marbling EPD based on ultrasound and the genomic test, we still need to follow his progeny to the rail and collect marbling scores or at least scan his sons and daughters to prove the bull even further. Then, we revalidate the genomic test for Marbling EPD and it becomes even more powerful and more significant as a tool for selection. In the end, genomics can be a real asset to breeders with just a few cows, those that rely heavily on embryo transfer, or breeders with large contemporary groups as they try to find ‘the one’ that will give them an edge or move their herd forward at an accelerated pace. The train is comin’.
Written By: American Shorthorn Association contributor, Patrick Wall
Patrick can be reached at email@example.com