Dorian Garrick
Dorian Garrick

By Troy Smith for Angus Journal

If asked, most beef cattle producers would say they have a breeding plan. But how many could honestly claim their individual plans give due attention to genetic selection for traits associated with reproduction and longevity, feed costs, animal welfare and their operation’s environmental footprint? Speaking at the 2018 Beef Improvement Federation Convention hosted June 20 -23 in Loveland, Colo., animal geneticist Dorian Garrick suggested that such traits are not adequately considered.
A professor at New Zealand’s Massey University, Garrick said most producers place selection emphasis on ease of calving and early growth traits (weaning and yearling weights), and maybe carcass traits. He called these the “tangible” traits — those easiest to measure. Other traits, he fears, do not receive enough attention.
As an example, Garrick cited wide use of expected progeny difference (EPD) values and dollar-indices for aiding genetic selection to increase performance. But at what cost? With increased calf performance has come an increase in average mature cow size — 200 pounds or more in the last 20 years — and an accompanying rise in cow maintenance costs.
“It’s my hope that, as you drive home from this meeting, you will think about things a little bit differently,” said Garrick, encouraging producers to do a better job of addressing less-tangible traits.
Garrick admitted that there are reasons why these traits are not adequately considered. They may be difficult or more expensive to measure. In some cases, too little data is recorded or existing data is underutilized. Seedstock breeders also may perceive a lack of demand among customers. Breed associations may impede innovation, or do little to encourage it.
Garrick said the problem of neglected traits might be addressed through new technologies, with genomic technologies likely leading to increased emphasis on traits currently least considered. Incentives for innovation might be funded by society (subsidies). The latter suggestion might apply particularly to traits associated with animal welfare (disease resistance) and environmental impact (reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and excreted nitrogen).
In Garrick’s opinion, most desirable would be development of selection indices to facilitate selection for multiple traits, including those previously neglected.
“The most efficient way is to use economic indices and not individual EPDs,” stated Garrick.

Value from
The beef industry has shown that it can make dramatic improvements in traits that we can measure. It has used information and technology to make improvements and add value to its product.
Value has been added at an accelerated rate over the last 10 years. According to Wade Small, identifying ways for the industry to collect data on traits that will add the greatest value over the next 10 years will be more challenging.
Small is president of the livestock division of Washington-based Agri Beef Inc. and responsible for the firm’s cattle-feeding segment. He also spoke during the 2018 Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium. Small described Agri Beef’s integrated operations, which include cow-calf production, cattle feeding and beef processing. The company also markets beef under multiple branded labels.
Small said Agri Beef has utilized information and technology to drive its production system and improve the quality of beef produced. The progress made is reflected in increased volume of sales of upper-Choice and Prime product. This is not unique to Agri Beef, but mirrors an industry trend toward creating more value through a focus on quality.
According to Small, daily gain and marbling have been significant drivers of value captured by cattle feeders. These drivers are associated with traits for which data is relatively easy to collect and analyze. He warned the audience that continuing to meet consumer demand and improve profitability will require innovative ways to capture and analyze traits that are more difficult to measure.
“Consumers are recognizing value differently,” said Small. “Increasingly, they are assigning more or less value to how our product is produced. There is growing concern over animal welfare and health, and increased scrutiny of antibiotic use.”
Small cited traits associated with disease resistance as the kind for which data is difficult to capture due to the lack of a standardized data collection platform and management practices. He called for more collaboration in finding ways to collect, analyze and utilize the data necessary to develop tools for genetic selection that will increase value that can be shared throughout the industry.
“We’ve got to stay ahead of the game,” warned Small, “and continue to identify what it is that truly adds value.”

This article is reprinted with permission. For more coverage from the event visit and click on Newsroom. The 51st annual BIF Conference will be held June 18-21, 2019 in Brookings, SD.