US geneticist encourages beef breeders to adopt index selection

Lancaster open day highlights world's biggest beef genetic evaluation system

Beef
OPEN DAY: American Simmental Association's Luke Bowman and Wade Shafer with Tim and Henry Cartledge, Lancaster Simmental stud, Field, at their field day last week.

OPEN DAY: American Simmental Association's Luke Bowman and Wade Shafer with Tim and Henry Cartledge, Lancaster Simmental stud, Field, at their field day last week.

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Australian beef producers should be ensuring they are looking at indexes more when buying bulls, according to American Simmental Association executive vice-president Wade Shafer.

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Australian beef producers should be ensuring they are looking at indexes more when buying bulls, according to American Simmental Association executive vice-president Wade Shafer.

He says the pig, poultry and dairy industries have led the way, using rigorously calculated indexes for decades to advance their breeding.

But many beef producers are still only looking at individual estimated breeding values when making selections.

"The first part is to know where these animals size up, but an EBV doesn't tell you if it's good or bad," he said.

"The only way to get that is essential accounting - what is an extra unit of calving ease worth, how much is an extra unit of carcase merit worth?"

Dr Shafer, who was the guest speaker at Lancaster Black Simmental stud's on-property open day last week at Field, spoke about how the ASA had built a large database, including indexes to help commercial breeders make better decisions, rather than just being a breed society.

"We don't think breed societies have done nearly enough for the industry," he said.

"We like to think of ourselves as the anti-breed society of breed societies, our mission is not to promote the ASA. Our goal is to make the commercial cattleman as profitable as possible and we'd like to think that includes Simmental in many circumstances."

The result has been the world's largest genetic evaluation, International Genetic Solutions, which was launched in 2010 by ASA and the Red Angus Society of America, and Dr Shafer says is now a collaboration of 17 different breed societies with nearly 19 million animals being analysed.

"When it comes to genetic evaluation we are only speculating how an animal may perform, especially with young cattle, but we feel by what we have been doing with IGS we are able to speculate better than anyone else because we have more data."

Lancaster was the first Australian Simmental stud to be analysed on the ASA database and Tim Cartledge says the All-Purpose index, based on 11 production traits from fertility to stayability (longevity), has been particularly useful in ranking animals within their stud.

"In most cases you know it is going to take two years or more to have progeny to sell, so it is important to cover as many bases as possible with the index, rather than following trends," he said.

"The cost of feed and cost of animals go in cycles but the index takes into account 10 years worth of pricing."

At the open day Lancaster Black Simmentals sold 10 bulls to $6000 three times and averaging $4700.

At the open day Lancaster Black Simmentals sold 10 bulls to $6000 three times and averaging $4700.

Large IGS database adds confidence in figures

When the Cartledge family from Field began breeding Black Simmentals in 2005, they quickly realised the breed's main competitor, Angus, had access to much better genetic evaluation tools.

So to overcome this they were the first in the breed to sign their Lancaster herd up to American Simmental Association's large database, rather than just using Australian Breedplan.

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At the time, the United States system had more than 10 million cattle recorded on it.

"They had a progeny testing program where they had a deal with commercial Angus breeders where they put Simmental bulls over the Angus heifers," Tim Cartledge said.

In the past 12 months there has been some noise about the need for a multi-breed database (here in Australia), but we have been part of one for the past 15 years. - TIM CARTLEDGE

"They also had a carcase merit program where the steers from the progeny test program were put through the abattoirs and the feed yards and then all the carcase measurements collected - it was literally thousands of records which were being put back through to validate the carcase Estimated Progeny Differences."

Another attraction was the ASA's multi-breed genetic database, which has since grown into International Genetic Solutions.

"In the past 12 months there has been some noise about the need for a multi-breed database (here in Australia), but we have been part of one for the past 15 years," he said.

"It means that we can not only look at Angus and Simmental cattle and their crosses, but also look at other breeds and see how they are progressing with their traits, all on the same database."

Mr Cartledge says using the US based system has giving them a much larger gene pool to compare their cattle and the higher accuracy through the use of DNA testing and genomic enhanced EPDs.

"When we joined we had no idea how good it was going to be and how good it continues to be and now we have second thoughts about using an animal not on the IGS system ," he said.

"It has reduced the risk of using young, unproven animals."

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