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The Cattle Connection

The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies

DNA/Genomic testing: Only as good as the user

One of the greatest gifts to agriculture was the plow. Perfected by many, the plow turned the earth and gave way to farming as we know it. However, the plow also contributed to the great Dust Bowl of the 1930's. This illustrates that technology is only as good as those that implement it.

One of the most exciting technologies in the cattle industry today is the expanded use of genomics. The ability to explain a portion of an animal's potential contribution can lead to great leaps in selection and improvement of cattle genetics.

This technology can give us the ability to make genetic progress much more rapidly than in the past. However, with more speed tends to come less room for error. If the technology is not utilized to make advancement in the right direction, correcting mistakes may be more costly than ever.

Current trends for mature cow size and milk production in the Angus breed lead me to believe some producers are chasing percentile rank regardless of the meaning. After all you never see anyone advertise "In the 50th percentile for milk"... huh that's just breed average. However, bigger is not always better. In the case of mature cow size and milk production, these traits come with an economic price tag. That price tag is most easily explained by feed costs. In general, cows that weigh more and produce more milk require higher inputs and simply... more feed.

With heavy use of genomics in cattle selection on the horizon, cattlemen need to be aware that the best percentile rank may not equate to the most profit. Most breed EPDs are heavy on output traits. In the future more values will help quantify and select for better input traits. Once we have reliable values for intake, fertility, and longevity, profit can start to be more clearly represented and selected for.

Until these values are mainstream, producers must be intuitive and realize that traits such as milk production have an economic threshold. The ability for cattlemen to keep these traits within that threshold and still improve carcass, performance, and fertility will result in a more efficient, higher quality end product.

This new technology has the opportunity to take the cattle industry to new levels in efficiency, consistency, and profitability. Users of the technology have to approach its use with sound, common sense decision making. If used incorrectly or chasing percentiles regardless of meaning, beef cattle sustainability could just dry up and blow away.

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