OTTAWA, Ill. — The goal is to rank animals based on their genetic merit as accurately and as early in the animal’s life as possible.

“That’s where we can really take advantage of genomics in the cattle industry,” said Rod Shoenbine, cattle genetics specialist for Zoetis HD50K.

“As we look at genetics, we have to remember there are two things that go into the equation — genetics and environment,” said Shoenbine during a presentation at the Beef Sire Selection & Management Seminar. “Those are the two things that create the phenotype of the animal.”

Shoenbine talked about the genomic innovation timeline, starting in 1989 when the first GeneStar test was marketed.

“A quantum leap happened around 2007, when the bovine genome was sequenced,” he said during the meeting sponsored by Vita-Ferm, Merial, Zoetis HD50K, ABS, Illinois Angus Association, Illinois Simmental Association and the University of Illinois Extension.

“By 2008, we went from 11 markers to 56 markers, and we created MVPs or molecular value predictors, which are like a breeding value,” the specialist said.

“Along with the bovine genome sequence, they realized there were about 50,000-plus markers within the genome of the bovine animal that affect traits,” he said. “Now it’s up to our company to figure out what are the markers and what traits they affect.”

Evaluating Traits

Zoetis developed a 50,000-marker panel that the company is using to evaluate from 15 to 16 traits of cattle.

“We’ve developed a relationship with breed associations to incorporate these numbers into their EPD system,” Shoenbine said. “Rather than having another set of numbers, we’re working with breed associations to genomically enhance the EPD or expected progeny difference system.”

Animals are full of cells, and each one of these cells has a nucleus packed full of DNA — the code of life, he said.

“We’re looking at the 30 pair of chromosomes that bovine animals have,” he explained.

“We used to think these two pairs of chromosomes were somewhat equal in terms of genetic code,” he said. “We’re finding now that one change in that base pair can change an individual drastically.”

There are some 50,000 SNP, or single nucleotide polymorphism, that cause some kind of change in individual animals, Shoenbine told cattlemen.

“A SNP can generate biological variation between animals by causing differences in the recipes of proteins and causing the structure variation of whatever trait we’re looking at,” he added. “Some SNP leaves differences in health or physical appearance, but most SNP lead to no observable difference.”

In the past, scientists thought individuals inherited half of their chromosomes from the mother and half from the father.

“Now we’re realizing that’s not always how it works,” Shoenbine noted.

Calculating EPDS

To calculate EPDS, associations use lots of numbers including pedigree information, the animal’s individual performance such as weaning weight, yearling weight and scans from ultrasounds, as well as progeny performance.

“The beautiful thing about genomic technology is that no contemporary groups are needed,” the specialist said. “If you’re a small producer, it’s hard to get a contemporary group to prove a young sire or female. Now you’ve got the ability to do that using a HD 50K test.”

Using a high-density 50K test impacts the amount of time it takes to evaluate an animal.

For example, a producer can get a DNA sample from a calf and send it to the Angus association, which can develop EPDs after running the sire evaluation.

“Within five to six weeks, you can have EPDs developed on a calf that is still nursing a cow,” Shoenbine explained. “The accuracy levels will range 0.29 to 0.4 depending on the trait.”

“We’re looking at maximizing the response of genetics and selection,” he stressed.

“Sire selection drives the genetic component for commercial productivity,” he noted. “Genomic-enhanced EPDs enable more trustworthy and complete information.”

However, the genetics specialist stressed, using GE-EPDs is not a silver bullet.

“You still need to have good management and provide the right environment for your cattle to express their true genetics,” he added.

“But this does provide you another tool and more information,” Schoenbine said. “You will know more so your cattle can do more for you and your customers.”

Last year, Zoetis released another product for commercial Angus producers.

“Genemax only evaluates two traits — marbling and post-weaning gain because the No. 1 reason more cattle don’t hit the Certified Angus Beef target is marbling,” Shoenbine explained. “This product is based off the HD 50K platform.”