How technology is impacting the beef industry

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Jack Holden, owner of Holden Herefords, Valier, Montana, discussed the tremendous impact technology is having on the beef industry during the 20th Anniversary of Cattlemen’s College held in conjunction with the 2013 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Convention and Trade Show. He was joined by panel members including: Mark Gardiner, Gardiner Angus Ranch, Ashland, Kan., Bill McDonald, McDonald Farms, Blacksburg, Va.; and David Nichols, Nichols Farms, Bridgewater, Iowa. Holden focused on the impact of two technologies: DNA technology and computer software.

Holden said the technology most influential in his herd at this time is the use of DNA technology. He explained their Hereford ranch, which has been in the business since 1947, has always conducted parentage verification — clear back to the blood typing days. They have experienced the microsatellite phase and now ‘SNPS’ (single nucleotide polymorphisms) and currently with DNA technology are able to conduct genetic defect testing. In fact, every animal that is sold from the Holden Ranch is parentage-verified and tested to be free of any genetic defects. They currently use the 50K panel genetic testing program available through the American Hereford Association and processed by Gene Seek Inc., Lincoln, Neb.

All of the Holden herd sires, as well as the top third of their sale bulls, are tested for 50K panels and also their donor females. “This helps us decide with ET sibs which ones are going to out breed their sibling mates”, explains Holden. Holden’s Hereford program is unique, as their herd is based entirely on line-breeding. As a result of their line-breeding based herd, they don’t have the opportunity to use older proven bulls — “we need to turn our generations faster,” Holden commented. DNA technology is effective in aiding Holden Herefords because they believe it helps to identify younger, more proven sires, quicker.

A second technology that has been a great influence in the management of Holden Herefords is their electronic cattle management software program. They currently use a program called GEM (Genetic & Economic Management Software). With this system they can gather chute-side or field data including weights, review EPDs, ultrasound measurements and a multitude of other measurements. This software then sorts the data, providing custom reports and spreadsheets that are critical to the decision-making conducted by Holden.

He still sees many new technologies influencing the beef industry in the next five to ten years. “We will be amazed with how many tests and answers we are yet to experience,” Holden said, using the example of the changes ahead for measuring Residual Feed Intake (RFI) and the possibility of a genetic marker test for this trait as well.

Holden cautions producers to study the technologies and make sure they are valid for their operation and breed of cattle, but along with grasping these new technologies, producers need to keep an eye on the fact that technical data can’t strictly drive the cattle business. In the cattle business structural soundness and phenotype should go along with the genotype. As breeders it’s our role to do a good job of blending all this together to make cattle more profitable for everyone, Holden summarized.

Source: B. Lynn Gordon


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