Bull Evaluation Research Yields Promising Results

CANADA - A sire evaluation project is yielding promising results for beef producers who want to improve their herds.
calendar icon 29 March 2012
clock icon 2 minute read

Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development has partnered with IdentiGen Canada Ltd. to study which bulls produce the best calves. In 2010, they began collecting DNA from bulls and calves on two Alberta ranches. The project expanded to include a third ranch in 2011. The DNA linked calves to the bulls, and the early results immediately caught participating ranchers’ interests.

“What we did see right away, and we were told that we would, is bulls that did not sire any calves,” says Jim Hansen, livestock business development specialist with Alberta Agriculture. “They would have passed the semen test, everything would have been good, but they sired no calves.”

Researchers also looked at which bulls were producing the healthiest calves. The next step is to collect production data from the calves. They’ll be looking at which calves have the best meat quality, specifically traits related to growth performance, grade, and yield. Hansen anticipates that calves that have been really sick won’t perform as well on the carcass side as pen mates or half-siblings.

Some of the calves are sent straight to the feedlot, where the participating ranchers retain ownership. Others are maintained over the winter, and then put on grass before being sent to the feedlot. One rancher is also measuring the performance of replacement heifers. Hansen expects to see half-siblings in all these groups, which should make for interesting results.

The researchers’ goal is to help ranchers become more profitable by giving them the tools to figure out which bulls are the best producers. It should also allow ranchers to work closely with their seedstock suppliers to develop lines that perform well in commercial operations. “If you have one main supplier, just think what you guys are going to work out cooperatively,” says Mr Hansen.

Hansen says they’ve tried different tools to try to find the most practical DNA collection methods for producers. They’ve used a scratch tool that takes samples from inside the nose, which is very cost effective. Researchers have also tried three ear tag types that collect samples when the tags puncture the ears. Mr Hansen estimates that the ear tags cost about $3.25 each. RFID tags that collect DNA are now available in Australia, but are not yet in Canada.

“The science isn’t necessarily new. But some of the technology to make it more user-friendly and drive costs down, some of that probably isn’t where it’s going to be. Over the next few years it’ll be different probably than where it is today.”

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