Picture a crossbred heifer at weaning, tag #1839. She weighs 310 kilograms, 20kg above the average weight of her peers.
She is as long as the Orient Express, with a coat as sleek as a greyhound, wide hips, and a perfect foot on each corner. She tracks fluidly and is whisper quiet to move through the yards. She conceives early, calves and rebreeds easily, and her progeny have explosive growth and prime carcass quality. If only we could have pens full of #1839.
What we are seeing in the flesh is the result of 22,000 different genes interacting with the environment they have been exposed to during #1839’s life. The forms of each of her genes (called alleles) come from both her parents in equal share. However, the exact form of the gene she received from each parent and, thus how it is expressed, is random. This is why not every animal from the same mating is identical, and the same principle by which we differ from our siblings.
Imagine we could take these commercial crossbred heifers, peel back the layers and see which alleles are being expressed in a given animal, compare them to their siblings, and determine genetic potential for a range of important production traits. Well, with the advent of genomics, this is now possible.
Genomics refers to the study and measurement of an animal’s genetic code, in other words, the 22,000 genes that make up #1839. Considerable research has been undertaken over the years to identify genes controlling important production traits for cattle, such that we are now able to “map” a given individual and identify their potential to express superiority.
Up until recently, this technology has been limited to the seedstock industry, with many leading bull buyers using the technology alongside pedigree and phenotypic (physical) measures to measure genetic prowess more accurately. As such, genomic testing has only been able to be conducted in pure bred animals in highly performance recorded herds.
Thomas Elder Consulting has partnered with genetics testing provider Neogen to offer genomic testing services for commercial cattle. A TEC consultant will work with clients to develop plans to test and select commercial replacement females for genetic prowess across 16 production traits.
You can then use the results alongside physical appearance to pick superior individuals for replacement. Identifying the elite individuals within a group will highlight traits requiring improvement, and inform bull buying decisions. This technology will assist you to select the highest-performing individuals at a younger age, increasing the rate of genetic improvement within your herd.
The number of animals to be tested should be discussed with your TEC consultant prior to sampling. Testing is conducted by taking a small ear punch of tissue into an Allflex Tissue Sampling Unit (TSU). You will receive a report outlining the relative ranking of animals for the traits of interest, custom selection indexes and, over time, where they sit relative to your herd’s historic performance. Testing can also be paired with parentage verification for multi-sire matings and/or BVDV/Pestivirus testing.