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Building Your Genetic Base
3rd Annual Heifer Development Webinar Series

“Building Your Genetic Base” was the topic of the 3rd Annual Heifer Development Webinar Series conducted during February and March 2017. The three-part webinar series was hosted by SDSU Extension with invited speakers to provide their knowledge and expertise in the area of genetic selection pertaining to genetic decisions for beef operations. Registered participants from 11 states received links to join in on live webinars, as well as links to access recorded sessions available to be watched at their convenience.

Genetic Selection: Tools & Considerations

Genetic decisions play a large role in the success and longevity of an operation. Thus, dedicating time to studying genetics to making the best genetic selections possible is necessary. However, one must first answer the question of “best for what purpose” and follow the goals set to create those type of cattle. Whether raising replacement heifers, feeder calves, retained ownership or seedstock cattle, a different genetic base is needed to reach the end goal. Luckily, advancement in technology has given us access to genetic tools which allow us to evaluate the genetics of individual animals and attempt to predict genetic merit in a few months vs. waiting 3 years to see results after a complete cow/calf cycle (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Representation of a standard production cycle with a 60-day breeding season, a 270 to 300 day gestational interval (80 to 90 day calving season) and weaning at 210 days-of-age. Following weaning, calves will enter a growing and finishing phase before being slaughtered around 18 to 24 months-of-age.

Rosie Nold and George Perry, Editors.

Expected Progeny Differences (EPD’s)

Beginning with expected progeny differences (EPD’s), producers can compare animals by traits of interest and predict how future progeny will perform compared to another counterpart’s progeny. Depending on the trait, different units of measure are used to express the difference (plus or minus) compared to that same trait in another animal. Start by selecting a few key EPD’s of interest that will assist in finding an animal that can deliver the genetic base desired. There is likely a bull to meet everyone’s needs, but sometime this takes time which is valuable. Using EPD’s and genomic technology are two ways to speed up genetic progress and get an idea of future offspring performance before calves even reach the ground.

Genomic Technology: Producer insights

During the second session of this webinar, two beef producers from South Dakota shared their experiences with starting to use genomic technology and how it has helped them make huge advancements on their operations in a short period of time. Although these genomic tests come at a price, the value of the data can greatly increase confidence in keep/cull decisions on the ranch and eliminate those animals that do not meet the goals of the operation earlier. This will then likely save the operation money and valuable resources in the long run. Also, both speakers stressed the importance of dedicating oneself to using the data that is sent back. It can be easy to put it aside in fear of having to aggressively cull cows or bulls that aren’t meeting the desired goals of the operation. But in the end, those cattle will likely end up costing you money down the road and will inhibit progress. So keeping good records and using genomic results to improve the operation will likely pay for themselves.

Setting Heifer Development Goals

Lastly, the third webinar session tied the genetic base discussion up with a presentation on how to utilize EPD’s and goals to select sires for heifer development programs. Three genetic decisions that must be considered when raising replacement heifers are selecting the right sires and dam’s to produce the heifers, proper selection of heifer calves and then mating heifers to sires that will complement the goals of your program. Using pedigree, performance, genetics and visual evaluation are all tools to utilize when choosing candidates. Also, understanding what EPD’s mean, and comparing to breed averages are important to building the right genetic base for heifer programs. Always keeping in mind traits of importance and balancing them with how that genetic decision will economically impact the operation in the long-term.

Common Themes

A common theme presented throughout the webinar sessions was the need dedicate oneself to following goals and using the data generated from genomic tools to make the best decisions possible for the operation. At the end of the day genetic selection is a tool we can utilize to create animals that are economically and biologically efficient in converting feedstuffs into protein for human consumption. Therefore, implementing genomic data and technology to improve efficiency of genetic selection is one way producers can start to build a good genetic base for the cow herd and improve profitability and longevity on the operation, while also helping to feed the world.

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