A revolution in the biological sciences occurred at the turn of the 21st century, driven by the human genome project. A by-product of this revolution is new knowledge and new tools that became applicable to cattle breeding. One of those tools was technology that directly detects differences between animals in DNA sequence. GeneSTAR Marbling, Tenderness and Net Feed Intake (the primary drivers behind genetic carcass quality) were three such tools which emerged from the technology. These tests were the first commercial DNA diagnostic test available in the world for a beef production trait.

The GeneSTAR tests are a diagnostic test that distinguishes different forms (alleles) of the target gene(s). The different alleles of the gene(s) are associated with the different levels of expression of the trait in the carcass.

The test is highly accurate. The test shows if the animal has a copy of the favourable allele, and if so, how many.

A new era in DNA-marker technology emerged with the launch of GeneSTAR Molecular Value Predictions (MVP’s). The technology now reflects a molecular breeding value with more markers.

Based on an expanded 55-marker panel-12 existing markers plus 4 recently identified ones—GeneSTAR MVP’s help producers place greater trust in the ability of the panel to accurately predict a phenotypic response.

While more markers are important, the real GeneSTAR MVP advantage lies in the extensive, independent validation effort used to verify marker-panel effects. Pfizer Animal Genetics has used global cattle populations through third-party organisations to validate the power of GeneSTAR MVP to impact economically important traits.

MVP’s (Molecular Value Predictions)

DNA technology in livestock has evolved dramatically in recent times as shown by the release in April 2010 of Pfizer Animal Genetics’ first commercial DNA test using a high-density panel with more than 50,000 DNA markers for quantitative traits in cattle. Molecular Value Predictions (MVP’s) are breeding values that predict the genetic potential of an animal based solely on its DNA. GeneSTAR provides MVP’s for 16 economically important traits including:

  • Calving: (Calving Ease Direct #, Calving Ease Daughters #, Birth Weight #)
  • Fertility: (Scrotal Size*)
  • Growth: (Weaning Weight #, Milk #, Yearling Weight*, Mature Cow Weight*)
  • Feedlot: (Dry Matter Intake‡, Feedlot Daily Gain‡, Net Feed Intake‡)
  • Carcass: (Carcass Weight #, Rib Fat #, Eye Muscle Area #, Marbling #, Tenderness‡)

(# traits included in the BREEDPLAN analysis; *traits soon to be included; ‡ traits outside of BREEDPLAN)

Key Applications for MVP’s

Hard to measure traits

Many of the economically important traits are very difficult and expensive to measure. In addition, many of these traits are not part of the BREEDPLAN genetic evaluation system. MVP’s can provide detailed information on the genetic worth of an individual for these key traits and can provide that information shortly after birth.

  • Net Feed Intake (NFI) is an increasingly important trait in today’s beef industry. With feed being the number one expenditure in any beef cattle operation, and price of feed raising at an astonishing rate, the efficient use of this resource becomes more and more relevant in today’s beef industry.
  • Tenderness has been ranked the most important contributing factor to eating quality by consumers. This trait can only be recorded once an animal has been slaughtered and this DNA test provides us with an objective indication of the genetic merit of an animal on this trait.
  • Maternal traits: To obtain high levels of accuracy for this group of traits, it will take several generations of recording. DNA came to the rescue and now allows us to obtain accurate information for these traits very early in life.

Replacement Animals

Replacement animals represent the future of the genetics of a herd, therefore to ensure the best possible selection decision made while selecting these animals, MVP’s will play a very important role.

  • Replacement Heifers: There is little information available on the genetic merit of potential replacement heifers. As they haven’t had a calf of their own yet, the only data available to predict their genetic merit is based on mid parent value information at best. The MVP’s can provide a comprehensive picture of a candidate replacement heifers’ genetic potential.
  • Donor Dams: Currently the way donor dams are selected, means that they are mature cows before enough is known about them to make a confident selection decision. By doing this, the generation interval of the entire herd increases, reducing the genetic improvement that could be achieved if heifers were selected as donors. MVP’s can provide the necessary information on young heifers and allow us to select them as donors with confidence.
  • Yearling/Herd Bulls: Selecting bulls as yearlings, for sale, own use, progeny testing, specific use (i.e. heifer bulls), is a mighty challenge as the information available at this point in their lives is restricted. MVP’s provides accurate information for economically important traits that will assist in this very crucial task to ensure the genetic improvement of a herd.

The reason Redrock chose to invest in genomics was that we were frustrated with traditional genetic evaluation methods which failed to accurately describe our cattle or identify genetic carcass quality. And believed a gene identification method was “absolute” rather than an estimate.

The reasons for this are:

  1. The genetic make-up of Redrock genetics is different to mainstream cattle in Australia which gave us poor linkage to ‘popular’ bulls which in turn gave our data a low accuracy.
  2. The environment and expansive management made it very difficult to maintain any consistency in nutrition in management groups.
  3. Because of the systems heavy weighting on pedigree and the lack of variation in our raw data, our raw data is largely ignored by Breedplan.
  4. The Redrock cows were ‘old’ genetics and the bulls we used were ‘old’ genetics. As a result Breedplan had the resulting progeny at a very low EBV base which certainly did not reflect their true performance.
  5. Redrock believes there are many breeders who deliberately ‘work’ the current system to achieve ‘good’ outcomes.
  6. The sale of weaners or yearlings makes it difficult to get data beyond 12 months on our male animals.
  7. A big percentage of assisted reproduction ( AI, ET, IVF) is used at Redrock, with Breedplan it was difficult to identify the superior animals in a flush at a young age.

WHY GENOMIC RESEARCH?

  1. The information is all about the individual animal, not a mid parent estimate based on assumptions.
  2. It describes the animal virtually at birth and that information is not subject to change over the life of the animal.
  3. It is not affected by the environment and can not be manipulated by humans.
  4. It provides valuable information on ‘hard to measure traits’ such as feed efficiency and tenderness.
  5. It has the potential to eliminate some of the expensive and dangerous management practices in collecting data, like weighing calves at birth.
  6. It eliminates the need to wait until the animal has progeny recorded to get accurate information.
  7. As the system develops more valuable information will become available – without further testing.

HOW REDROCK INTEND USING GENOMIC RESEARCH

MVP’s are a tool to describe Redrock genetics. Every environment, every management and every market has a different requirement.

Some breed society’s and beef recording organisations have made it mandatory for the reporting of genomic information it has to be in the form of a EBV. This means that we have been left with no option other than to present this information as estimated breeding values to the public. By doing this Breedplan is failing to report important information on traits that it (Breedplan) does not measure that are available through MVP’s, such as Feed Efficiency, Feed Lot Daily Gain & Tenderness, all of which contribute to carcass quality.

The system, as a stand alone product, suits our management, it reports on hard to measure traits, that Breedplan doesn’t, which we feel are important and the information is available virtually at birth.

First and foremost we must have a herd of cattle that can thrive, survive and reproduce in our environment, we then need to ‘fine tune’ that product to an efficient and sustainable animal that can breed animals that produce a quality body of beef that is profitable for the breeder, the grower, the feeder and the processor and gives an enjoyable eating experience to the consumer. MVP’s provide a valuable tool to achieve this.

It will be used as stand alone information within the Redrock herd as a tool to describe our cattle so that we can fine tune our selection with the primary emphasis on carcass quality, while acknowledging that every environment, every management and every market has a different requirement.