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Adopting Genomics at the Ranch Level

16 July 2013

If genomics are going to be adopted it is up to the industry to demonstrate the benefits, says Vermilion rancher, Sean McGrath, an advocate of genetics testing.

The possibilities of a project sequencing DNA from presitigous Angus sires was discussed between Mr McGrath and Lisa Guenther of Genome Alberta. 

McGrath and his family regularly use genomic testing on their ranch, writes Mrs Guenther. 

“If you sold me a bull, I would have a sample pulled out of his ear basically before he got to the end of the chute off your trailer,” he says.
McGrath says they typically run a BVD-PI (Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus Persistent Infection) and a bigger panel on herd sires, “just to reinforce what we think we already know.” They also run parentage and BVD-PI tests on replacement heifers.

McGrath says they’re starting to get back some BIXS data, and their use of the technology will evolve.

But there are challenges to adopting the technology at the ranch level, one being industry structure.

”Some of it is just the fact that there are still lots of calves that get sold off the farm gate at weaning...If you do genomic tests on your feeder calves for carcass traits, how do you get paid for that?”

As well, “profitability over the last 10 or 15 years has been tough and guys just aren’t stepping out to adopt new technology. A lot of them are looking at changing their mix to more crops and less cows, for example.”

Genomic testing also has to compete with other technologies, especially on mixed farms, McGrath points out.

And finally, although there are many genomic tests available, beef producers aren’t necessarily sure how to use them, McGrath says.

Next steps for technology adoption

The industry needs to communicate the benefits of the technology to encourage adoption, McGrath says.

“I think we’re going to have to do some demonstrations of how easy it is to actually do it just so people can see…it’s not going to take you 20 minutes a cow, it’s not going to cost you fifty bucks a head.”

Marketing structures also need to assign value to genomic testing. “There has to be a return.”

McGrath says producers thinking about using genomic tests should keep in mind that it’s stackable, and that they can get in at an extremely low cost.

For example, producers could initially use SNP technology to figure out which bulls are the sires of their replacement heifers at a low price. Producers could later test the samples for more traits, such as heifer fertility or full production carcass suites.

Seedstock producers who use microsatellite to determine parentage could do the same job with SNPs for less money, McGrath says.

Or, for the same money that they’re currently spending on parentage, they could probably run a 6K panel, he adds. “They could get extra information that they could incorporate into their EPDs and improve the accuracy.”

“To me, that’s the biggest thing – if we can improve the accuracy on the EPDs on these young bulls without waiting.”

Beef producers need to be aware of the technology,“…and there’ll be a time when it’s right to jump in for them,” McGrath says.

“I think there’s all kinds of benefits. We just have to structure things and think about it a bit at the farm level to make sure there’s money in doing it.”

July 2013

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