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Refined Tools Help Improve Quality Beef, MU Geneticist Will Explain at Thompson Farm

COLUMBIA – Beef cow herd owners have new tools—and refined old tools—to speed genetic progress in their herds.
Farmers can learn those at a field day, Sept. 17, at the University of Missouri Thompson Farm, Spickard, Mo.
Jared Decker, MU Extension geneticist, will explain expected progeny differences. Those are old tools.
“EPDs have two main problems,” Decker says. “First, they are not precise for young animals. Second, with more available for use, they become overwhelming.”
Advances in DNA testing allow cattle breeders to account for all 20,000 genes when estimating an animal’s genetic merit. Results of current genetic tests on young sires provide data equivalent to a bull with 20 progeny to test.
Decker’s talk on genetic tools will mesh with other talks by the MU Beef Team at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Columbia.
Old EPDs covered only a couple of genetic traits. And those traits were tracked and proven through testing of progeny. Using live offspring, it took years to develop accurate EPDs.
Now DNA tests and genomic EPDs increase accuracy quicker. Tests require a drop of blood, or hair follicles.
“Genomic-enhanced EPDs allow commercial breeders to make more rapid genetic progress,” Decker says. “Decisions become more accurate. And they allow using younger, superior sires.”
To begin, EPDs aim to simplify decisions on buying and mating animals. One number would tell a lot.
Higher accuracy arrived with genomic testing. The new EPDs allow sorting desirable animals from cull animals that have identical EPDs under the old system.
This adds complexity. There are so many EPDs for traits it becomes difficult to know where to look. “Now, farmers might be looking at 15 traits,” Decker says. “That’s more than our brains can handle all at once.”
That’s where economic indexes help.
Geneticists at breed associations added dollar values to traits. These are weighted and combined, again into one number.
One economic index doesn’t fit all producers. A farmer must select one that helps his operation. Economic indexes differ for someone who sells calves at weaning or one who keeps calves through a feedlot.
For feeder calves, heavy weaning weights add dollars. A farmer feeding out calves wants carcass value.
“Economic indexes are powerful tools,” Decker says. “They combine more relevant information. And they simplify decision-making.
“In today’s economy, information brings premiums.”
Joining the field day program will be Mike Kasten, coordinator of the MU Quality Beef by the Numbers program. The QB program combines breeding, production and marketing to bring premium dollars and carcass data back to the farm.
Jordan Thomas, MU animal science graduate student, conducts research on fixed-time artificial insemination at Thompson Farm. He achieved more pregnancies in heifers on the first day of breeding season, which results in more uniform calf crops. Look-alike quality calves bring more money.
Eight speakers, from ag economist to veterinarian, will talk. Topics include grazing management and pregnancy detection.
The program starts at 8:30 a.m. with sign-in and refreshments. The program ends at 3 p.m. after wagon tours. Free lunch will be served at noon in the exhibit area.
To reach Thompson Farm in Grundy County, go to the end of Highway C, seven miles west of Spickard. Or reach the farm from the north off Highway A from Highway 136. Or from the south on Highway A off of Highway 65 north of Trenton, Mo.