By Jamie T. Courter, Ph.D.
The rapid rate at which technology develops today is both exciting and intimidating. Specific to genetic predictions in cattle, although still considered ‘new technology’, Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) have been implemented for seedstock cattle since the 1980’s. It wasn’t until almost 30 years later that DNA was incorporated into those predictions of genetic merit to form a “genomically enhanced” EPD (GE-EPD). This introduction of genomics revolutionized the ability to make genetic progress by increasing the accuracy of selection decisions. The repercussions of which were not only apparent in traits like weaning weight, but also those that were difficult to measure or measured late in life such as heifer pregnancy or carcass traits.
Just as genetics flow from seedstock cattle into the commercial sector of the beef industry, so did the idea of genomic technology. Not only was 2009 the year that the first beef breed association began reporting GE-EPDs to their members, but it was also the year that genomic profiles for commercial replacement heifer selection became available. A direct result of the phenotype, genotype, and pedigree information being reported at the seedstock level, commercial tools relied heavily on those types of data to estimate the genetic merit of an animal using only their DNA. It is important to note that these commercial products came into the marketplace not to compete with formal genetic evaluations, but instead to provide genomic insight into nonregistered cattle who otherwise would not have access to such information.
As with any technology, increased adoption and phenotype collection combined with research and development have resulted in many iterations and changes within the genetic predictions themselves and the products offered to the industry. Each update and change seems to come sooner than the last. While it can be both frustrating and difficult to follow, it is important to think of change as continued improvement to already proven methodology.
It took almost 30 years for genetic predictions to transfer from selection and management of seedstock animals to commercial replacement heifers, but that left a very large and important aspect of the industry without any genomic tools. Today, 21 years after genomic profiles were launched into the commercial industry, there is now a product available for terminal cattle not kept for breeding purposes. NEOGEN has expanded their Igenity product portfolio to now include Igenity Beef for replacement heifer selection and Igenity Feeder.
The launch of Igenity Feeder into the industry calls for a large shift in the thought process behind the value and use of genomics. Traditionally, genomics has been used on a trait-by-trait basis to select the ‘best’ animals for breeding purposes. However, stocker and feeder cattle are, in most cases, already purchased. Igenity Feeder results are designed to assist in the marketing, management, and sorting of feeder cattle, providing insight into the genetic footprint previously unknown or treated as an average.
For the stocker and backgrounder, the Igenity Terminal Index (ITI) helps to rank and market cattle according to their carcass and growth potential. While cattle of unknown genetics have potentially already been purchased, understanding their genetic predisposition to marble and grow provides an advantage for sorting and marketing. For the feedlot operator, NEOGEN has developed a new Days on Feed (DOF) Index that uses DNA to rank cattle according to their genetic potential for gain and fattening. Higher DOF index values indicate animals who mature and fatten at a faster rate, resulting in fewer estimated DOF.
While these indexes seem similar, what they are estimating is quite different. The ITI is a prediction of potential carcass merit and the DOF index is an estimate of how quickly an animal will mature and put on weight. Both pieces of information provide key insight into the profitability of an animal.
Today, although at varying levels of understanding and adoption, genomic tools exist for many aspects of the beef industry. Genomic profiles have advanced exponentially since their introduction to the beef industry in 2009. These tools, when implemented, have the potential to drastically change how producers select, manage, and market cattle in ways never available before. If today is any indication of the progress that can be made in such a short period of time, there is no limit to where the technology will be in another 20 years.
To learn more about which genomic tests are recommended for your beef cattle, please visit NEOGEN.com.