Genetic Evaluation: A Team Sport

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Genetic Evaluation: A Team Sport

Beef Cattle Genetic Solutions

by Jackie Atkins, in collaboration with Randie Culbertson and Wade Shafer      |      

On a nearly daily basis I witness the tug and pull in our family dynamics between individuals competing directly and the group working collaboratively. Nearly every time my kids are competing with each other to put their pjs on first, pack their lunch first, or run to the gate first, they are pushing and shoving, and only care about themselves at the expense of others. When we flip this conversation into a team sport by asking, “How fast can we all be ready for bed?”, this instantly changes the dynamics. Instead of elbowing each other out of the way, when our family is the team, the older kids help the younger ones get toothpaste on their toothbrushes, find clean pjs, comb hair, and work together toward a common good in a spirit of camaraderie. Not only is there less fighting in the family when we have a team goal, but everyone finishes faster as we aren’t wasting time fighting over silly things like who touched the toothpaste first.

I see this play out in breed association politics as well. If a breed association’s mentality is to make their association number one, they will start elbowing, pushing, and shoving to “win”. When the common good is to provide tools for the commercial cattle industry, this completely changes the dynamics. Now the breed associations can collaborate and work together toward helping the commercial cattle industry have the most accurate tools at their disposal.

I feel so fortunate to work with a collective of team-oriented breed associations through International Genetic Solutions (IGS). It is invigorating to join forces with the staff of the various breed associations and problem-solve together. This summer we worked on a project that highlighted these benefits. We had one-on-one meetings with each association in IGS and went through the individual data entering into the genetic evaluation. It was a great opportunity to see how each association is adding to the IGS evaluation and also how each association is benefiting from the IGS collective.

We looked through a wide swath of data points to review contributions made by each breed organization. The American Simmental Association (ASA) has ~150,000 genotyped animals and an above-average number of females and terminal cattle genotyped. In females born after 2010 with a Stayability record (n = 126,003), the members of the ASA have genotyped over 27% of those cows compared to the IGS average of 16%. Similarly, if we look at the number of terminal calves born since 2010, the ASA contributed 30,744 carcass records, of which 34% were genotyped. This is well above the IGS average of 10% of the terminal cattle being genotyped. Clearly the membership commitment to Cow Herd DNA Roundup and the Carcass Expansion Project show up in the numbers of genotypes in these populations. This is paving the way for research and development to improve what we can do for future predictions of maternal and terminal traits.

An area where we saw a drop in ASA data compared to the average IGS percentage was in yearling weights submitted. The ASA has just under 23% of the animals in our database with at least one phenotype who have a yearling weight, compared to an average of 28% for IGS. The Calf Crop Genomics program has an incentive for completed growth trait record submission, so it will be interesting to see if this benchmark improves in the future for ASA.

This report also highlighted the benefit to ASA of being in IGS. As of June 2021, the ASA had 12,979 bulls in the ASA database that also have progeny in another breed registry in the IGS collective. If the ASA were in a genetic evaluation all by ourselves, we would have close to 2.3 million progeny from these ~13,000 bulls, which is a healthy amount of data. But, by having one joint genetic evaluation, we add over 2 million more progeny to these 13,000 bulls, bringing the total to just over 4.3 million progeny records. This of course adds quite a bit of data to the 13,000 bulls, but also all of their relatives benefit from the additional progeny records. 

We pulled similar numbers for each organization in IGS and saw the same pattern across all the breed associations using the IGS genetic evaluation. Some breed associations saw an increase of nearly 14 times the amount of data through the collaborative efforts of IGS than if they had their own separate evaluation.

Seeing the fruits of this effort reminds me of a line from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, which I recently discovered: “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there.”

I think a tremendous benefit the ASA and many organizations in IGS offer their members is to have systems that allow breeders to help meet their data collection goals. Without those systems some breeders would meet them anyway, but certainly far fewer than can today. Again, we are working as a team to create the best level of genetic awareness. If we want the commercial cattle industry to have the best tools to predict genetic merit, then we work as a team with appropriate systems to meet the data goals. 

This year, spend less time focusing on outcomes and more time focusing on the habits that precede the results.” — James Clear, Atomic Habits

• ASA has ~150,000 genotyped animals.

• In females born after 2010 with a Stayability record (n = 126,003), the members of the ASA have genotyped over 27% of those cows; the IGS average is 16%.

• In terminal calves born since 2010, the ASA contributed 30,744 carcass records, of which 34% were genotyped; overall, 10% of terminal calves are genotyped in IGS.

• ASA has just under 23% of the animals in our database with at least one phenotype who have a yearling weight, compared to an average of 28% for IGS.

• As of June 2021, the ASA had 12,979 bulls in the ASA database that also have progeny in another breed registry in the IGS collective.

If the ASA were in a genetic valuation all by ourselves, we would have close to 2.3 million progeny from these ~13,000 bulls, which is a healthy amount of data. But, by having one joint genetic evaluation, we add over 2 million more progeny to these 13,000 bulls, bringing the total to just over 4.3 million progeny records.

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