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Evaluating What’s Below the Surface

DNA-testing improves selection accuracy in breeding stock.

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (Nov. 3, 2015) — Kent Andersen, associate director of technical services for Zoetis Inc., led an audience-participation evaluation of registered-Angus bulls and heifers. The fun and educational program was Session 2 of the Zoetis-sponsored “Genetic Connections: Angus Game Plan for Breeders and Commercial Customers” at the Angus Means Business National Convention & Trade Show Nov. 3.

Mark McCully, Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB) vice president of supply, and Tonya Amen, genetic service director for Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI), joined in the presentation.

Amen noted the economic assumptions for AGI genetic prediction tools will move to July updating rather than December and explained that AGI cooperates with Zoetis in running the i50K genomic test for registered cattle.

“With the lower-density test, the computer can impute the full picture from fewer markers, all at 98% concordance,” she explained. “Rankings are virtually the same as with HD50K, but at a much lower cost.”

When five bulls from KW Cattle Co., Fort Scott, Kan., entered the exhibition pen, Andersen noted different styles of bull selection.

“People may scour the catalogs and websites researching bulls before they look, or pick their favorites just before a sale and then check the numbers,” he said. “In this case, we’ll look first.” The audience of 125 liked what they saw, especially the No. 5 bull, preferred by 35%, while 27% favored the No. 4 bull.

Discussing the numbers to come, McCully said each breeder should have a plan though each will prioritize traits differently based on their needs and environment.

“How important is calving ease, milk or growth? Sometimes we pick bulls based on high or low numbers, but that’s probably not the best plan,” he said.

Andersen said a calving ease direct EPD of 8 or higher works for many operations, but those solely reliant on heifers calving unassisted go for “double-digit” calving ease. “Others have the labor and don’t mind a few easy pulls, so they can take a lower number if they get other traits they want in the package,” he said.

That No. 5 bull was noted as the “Yes Man” bull because no matter the role it would be asked to fill, the answer was yes, it can do that. Andersen showed how i50K genomic testing made that bull look even better when numbers were revealed. In the final poll, 45% of the audience picked him, and although the No. 4 bull ranked lowest with numbers revealed, all of the bulls hit double-digit poll numbers.

Looking at five registered heifers from Slocombe’s BJ Angus Genetics, Manhattan, Kan., the audience again saw excellent quality. Asked to choose a favorite by looks alone, the audience went for No. 4 at 46%, with No. 3 at 35%, largely ignoring No. 1 until results of her i50K genomics test were revealed and she earned the name “Topper,” with numbers that showed excellence across the board.

“Some of you might wonder why anyone would use that test on registered heifers,” Andersen said, “but it is an investment that pays in a lifetime of more precise breeding decisions.”

Editor’s Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal, which maintains the copyright. To request permission to reprint, please contact Shauna Hermel at 816-383-5270.