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Trials and Tribulations of Weekly Evaluations

Breed panelists share experiences, answer questions regarding weekly evaluations.

by Lindsay King, assistant editor, Angus Journal

LOVELAND, Colo., June 21, 2018 — During the selection decisions breakout of the 2018 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) Research Symposium and Convention, a panel of breed association representatives discussed the trials and tribulations of weekly genetic evaluations. Included on the panel were Wade Shafer, American Simmental Association CEO; Ryan Bolt, Red Angus Association of America CEO; Shane Bedwell, American Hereford Association COO; and Kelli Retallick, Angus Genetics Inc. genetic service director. The panel was moderated by Bob Weaber, professor and cow-calf extension specialist at Kansas State University.

Here we share a sample of the questions and answers shared during the discussion.

Q: What is the biggest advantage of movement to weekly evaluations?

Retallick: “We went to single-step evaluation about 50 weeks ago. Transitioning was easy because we did not have the training population. We get a lot of data in weekly, averaging at 2,500 genotypes per week. Not having to wait for that training and calibration is a plus for our breeders and their customers.”

Shafer: “Early on, I admit that I did not see the wisdom in this system. It turned out to be a good approach, but it was a big job: 12 breeds with millions of animals. Up until recently, this evaluation was done in a manual fashion. We now have a significantly improved database. Someone said earlier that a big plus for this system is the ability to catch issues on both sides early on. We can fix them almost immediately.”


Q: What is the most frequent question from breeders or the biggest misconception?

Retallick: “The main questions we get are about single step and the validity of that. We also see a lot more differentiation in the full siblings and get questions about those differences manifested by the system.”

Shafer: “The questions were mostly in the vein of why did this animal change? In all cases, we were able to dig up the reason. In almost all instances, when we did explain the reason fully, the breeder accepted. We were using DNA before, but now the system gives us more information, so we are going to see more spread in animals. In general, we have had fair questions, and breeders are fairly accepting of the answers.”


Q: From here forward, how does education about the value of the changes correlate with the responsibility everyone involved has with that?

Bolt: “The education aspect starts at the association level, but every member has to do their own level of education for their bull buyers. It is important for each association to provide that info to their members, but it is equally as important for producers to provide that to their bull buyers.”

Bedwell: “I think there is a lot more flexibility as we add these economically relevant traits, we gain a lot of trust back from the commercial industry. The rapid adoption rate is what allows us to keep progressing forward, and that is a success story in itself. We have started a junior steer feed-out contest. We are merging those young people with this technology so they can learn the whole system from the ground up instead of going back and training on it later. Some of those programs, as we continue to evolve and get more into our genetic evaluation system, will help in the long run.”


Q: Genomic populations have some bias. We typically don’t run the bottom end of the cattle because it does not pay. Does single step do a better job of mitigating that bias? What high-handed phenotypes do we need to get to as fast as we can?

Bolt: “What is the most valuable pen of cattle on your ranch? It’s your cull pen. You need to make sure you get those selection candidates out of your system that don’t need to be there. The easiest way to identify those animals at a young age is genomics. I understand there is a cost, but if you identify those animals from a young age, you end up way further ahead because that is the easiest tool to make an informed decision.”


Weaber concluded, “We need to think about assigning blame to someone, and if we don’t make the connection between geno- and phenotype on the ‘bad’ ones, we missed the boat. We are in the cattle business, but the people come first. We have to listen to the breeders and help bring them along with the new technology we roll out. We do a lot of testing before introducing these things to the breeders. Don’t be afraid to call your staff to help you through your questions. Sometimes those little issues in the system are identified by a breeder, and that helps everyone involved.”

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