Genomics and Dora Lee
In 2008, we had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2008 World Simmental Congress in Ireland and Scotland. The talk of the conference was the breaking technology of genomics in beef cattle! Using this technology to analyze hair samples, DNA markers could be located and genetic predictions could be made on traits like feed efficiency, ADG, rib eye, temperament, marbling, and tenderness. We were extremely excited by this new technology. Just considering the potential that genomics possesses – “WOW!”.
We talked with several of our fellow breeders from Australia at the World Congress who were already using this new technology. They indicated they were using Igenity testing from Merial. When we arrived home, we contacted Igenity and had a lengthy discussion surrounding ‘the big one’ – feed efficiency or RFI (residual feed intake). In our estimate, 80% of our costs are feed related, and it was virtually impossible to determine how ‘feed efficient’ an animal was in the pasture. Combining traditional evaluation methods with the ability to potentially identify animals who would be more efficient, could be a game changer. We had used DNA several years ago while in the swine industry and were very aware of just what this new tool could do to assist in the selection process. We wanted to select animals that are phenotypically correct and were the type we wanted to produce, but also wanted a tool to know what was under the hide as well. Igenity offered us that tool.
While Merial had completed their research on Feed Efficiency in beef cattle, it was not available in North America until approval by the National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium.[NBCEO]. In 2009, we received word that NBCEO had reviewed the RFI work and it was now available here in Canada. Starting in August 2009, we profiled a couple of cow families just to get our head around this new technology. After studying this new and important selection data, we proceeded to profile the remainder of our herd that fall.
To date, we have additional data on 3 crops of calves and upwards of 150 samples to analyze and compare. We have been able to identify a limited number of blood lines that are significantly better than the industry average for feed efficiency. We are mainly using this new tool in our selection of replacement heifers and, of course, future herd sire prospects and AI matings.
Although very preliminary, after three years of selection here at Dora Lee, looking primarily at feed efficiency, this tool would appear to be making a difference. For the first time ever, our cows and bred heifers had pasture until mid-November this year. We had the same number of cows, and were using the same pastures. Are we excited? “Oh yeah!”
Cost is, and was, a big issue for us and our fellow breeders. We believe that companies like Merial, Pfizer, and others have invested millions of dollars on this private, non government research – they obviously need to make a profit as well. However, as time goes on and more producers start using this new tool, prices are sure to come down further. (The cost of the test itself has already decreased from $60 to $40 per head).
We are very excited about the potential for this great new tool, and look forward to continuing to identify bloodlines and improve the quality of our herd.