The Beef Improvement Federation’s 2008 Research Symposium, held last week in Calgary, Alberta, focused on collaboration and emerging technologies for advancement of beef-cattle genetics. The title of the symposium was “Beef Beyond Borders,” and several presenters stressed the need for collaboration between countries, universities, breed associations, genomics companies and producers. Resources for genetic research are shrinking, and research is becoming more expensive. Sharing information such as data on cattle with genome profiles can reduce expensive duplication of efforts.

Genomics and marker-based selection were common topics of discussion. While currently available tests offer limited information, future potential is great, as tests will include more makers for more traits, providing vast amounts of genetic information on individual animals.

Here are a few of the major themes of discussion during the conference:

  • The promise of more extensive and accurate DNA profiling such as “50K chips” and whole-genome testing,  could have some researchers, breeders and producers thinking too far ahead, anticipating their future ability to make genetic progress. Several presenters stressed the need to apply the tools we have today – EPDs and DNA tests – in the best ways possible, and incorporate new tools as they become available. A bull purchased this spring will affect the quality and value of calves a producer markets five years from now -- even longer if the producer retains heifers for breeding. Today's decisions determine how well a producer is positioned for the future.
  • Complexity of genetic information is a current and future challenge for researchers, breeders and breed associations. We need ways to merge genomic information with phenotypic (EPD) data into an index or “genetic breeding value” that is useful and understandable for producers.
  • The growing importance of feed efficiency, and reducing production costs, generated considerable discussion. Existing DNA markers for the feed-efficiency trait probably won't result in rapid genetic progress, but their use is a step in the right direction. Producers can use genetic selection to begin moving their herd toward more efficient production.
  • Seedstock breeders are going to be increasingly accountable for the performance of their cattle. Technologies such as RFID and DNA testing, particularly tests for verifying parentage, will give commercial producers unprecedented access to progeny data linked to individual bulls.
  • Seedstock producer Dave Nichols, from Nichols Farms in Iowa, summed things up, saying  “Those farms, ranches, seedstock breeders and industries who ignore their customers’ real or perceived values, and lack the guts or the tools to control costs, are doomed to the trash can of history.”
  • Kniebel Farms & Cattle Company of White City, Kan., won the 2008 BIF Commercial Producer Award. This family operation includes seedstock, commercial cow-calf and feedlot production. Since its inception in 1878, Kniebel Farms has marketed finished cattle exclusively, rather than calves. The Kniebels are charter members of U.S. Premium Beef, and market their cattle through USPB’s value-based grids.

    For papers presented at the conference, click here.