Combat BRD, Other Beef Cattle Health Issues with Genetic Selection

Combat BRD, Other Beef Cattle Health Issues with Genetic Selection

Beef specialist says typical use of EPDs has focused on calving ease and carcass merit, but new research is hoping to help producers identify healthier cattle for breeding programs

Beef expected progeny differences have long been used to make breeding decisions about calving ease and carcass merit, but a new study is examining how genetic information can also be used to make overall health decisions, says Warren Rusche, South Dakota State University cow/calf specialist.

Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex, for example, is one of the leading causes of death and sickness in feedlot cattle, costing the beef industry $800 million annually, Rusche says. That can amount to $250 per animal, with all elements of treatment and carcass value combined.

Related: EPDs: Selecting Bulls for Easy Calving

Beef specialist says typical use of EPDs has focused on calving ease and carcass merit, but new research is hoping to help producers identify healthier cattle for breeding programs

Using genetic selection to reduce the incidence of BRDC is a topic researchers, including Dr. Holly Neibergs of Washington State University, are reviewing, Rusche reports. In data presented at the Beef Improvement Federation Conference in Lincoln, Neb., Neibergs said DNA and genomics can be used to screen for cattle that are less likely to come down with BRD.

According to Rusche, the study, now entering its fourth year, has found that heritability estimates for BRDC susceptibility are between 17% and 29%, similar to heritability estimates for other production traits. The researchers estimate that through genetic change it would be possible to reduce the incidence of BRDC by 1% to 2% per year.

"That may not seem like a great deal of progress, but 1% or 2% over time adds-up to significant differences," Rusche writes. "According to these researchers, the economic impact on the feedyard sector of just using one year’s-worth of genetic improvement using 2013 prices could be $13 to $21.5 million."

Related: Enhancing Beef Breeding with the Help of Genomics

Eventually, he says, the long-term idea is to make the information available to breed associations and cattle breeders to incorporate into EPDs or selection indices.

"The industry and research community are just beginning to scratch the surface of the potential genomics has to offer to improve genetic selection and progress," Rusche says. "These technologies could change much of the ways cattle are bred and managed in the future compared to today."

Read Rusche's full post on the SDSU iGrow site.

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