Increasing Genetic Improvement in Beef Herds

ANALYSIS - It is well known that the beef industry is far behind its competitors, pork and poultry, when it comes to genetic improvement. But why is this the case, asks TheCattleSite editor Charlotte Johnston.
calendar icon 26 January 2012
clock icon 2 minute read

Speaking yesterday at the British Cattle Breeders Conference (BCBC), Dr Maurice Bichard, from the University of Reading, looked at why progress in genetic improvement is slower in beef cattle and suggested how selection could become more effective.

Genetic improvement changes performance. There are three ways to achieve this:

  • Breed replacement
  • Breed combination (crosses)
  • Within-breed selection

Crossbreeding in commercial herds does play a huge part in today's beef industry and all industries have benefitted from breed replacement.

Breed replacement and crossing can give rapid and sometimes spectacular gains. But, Dr Bichard said, the only method of creating continuous cumulative improvement is recurrent selection within-breed or line.

He highlighted the fact that there had been few successful efforts to develop models for within-breed improvement in beef cattle.

A number of reasons for this include low female reproductivity rates, long generation intervals, and large, often valuable animals, explained Dr Bichard.

Rearing environments vary greatly and inputs/ outputs are hard to measures as the rearing environment is nowhere near as controlled as of that in poultry and pig production.

As well as this there is still a lot of reluctance in the industry to record detailed performance from commercial herds.

Dr Bichard said that the beef industry lacks the organisational structures needed to fully exploit both the old breeding tools, and the new DNA genomic additions.

He believes that a solution to this is a beef chain approach. By incorporating a supply chain, quality can be improved whilst resource use and environmental impacts can be reduced.

A beef chain approach would ensure consistent carcase and eating quality, as well as potentially lead to faster growth rates etc.

It would also have the potential to coordinate the collection of data through from farms, abattoirs, processing plants to retail shops and help redefine selection goals, carcase data and calculate chain-specific breeding indexes.

Concluding, Dr Bichard said that while some parts of this model are being tried or planned, there is still a lot more work to do for the beef industry to catch up with other species.

Charlotte Johnston, Editor

Charlotte Johnston - Editor

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