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Developing Indexes With Breeder Input

New Zealand company shares a model for building indexes using breeder input to value index components.

by Lindsay King, assistant editor

LOVELAND, Colo., June 21 — One barbed-wire fence separates AbacusBio Ltd. from the South Pole, according to Jason Archer, a consultant for the company. The New Zealand-based company is carrying the torch when it comes to incorporating breeder input into developing selection indexes.

“In the last 10 years we started to develop a new technique for developing a selection index. At our core is the economic model though,” Archer said. “We have started using a survey-based approach.”

Producers are aware that indexes are only useful when actually used. Many breeders choose to avoid them simply because they do not align with the needs of their operation. It seems a valid reason.

“This is the fundamental reason we have tried to listen to people and find out what they want in their selection indexes,” Archer explained. “Opinions are important, and there are a range of reasons for that.”

Those opinions come from both producers and consumers. Cattlemen are looking for traits with no economic factors involved in the equation. On the other hand, animal welfare concerns are important to the consumer. Selection indexes are looking to address concerns of both parties.

“Docility is another example of a trait that is hard to put a dollar value on. We try and trade off docility with another trait we have a good economic handle on,” Archer said. “Each sector will give their opinion, but at the end of the day we need to balance those opinions to make good selection decisions.”

Since producers come in all shapes and sizes and from all corners of the world, it is important to get a wide kaleidoscope of the industry when developing indexes.

“We use these surveys to target the segments of the market supply chain so we know what they want,” Archer added.

AbacusBio Ltd. is working with the American Angus Association on a survey for the development of new selection indexes. It will be a two-part survey. The first will address demographics and opinions while the second half will uncover the traits most important to that producer in his area and segment.

“The survey will select subsequent questions based on how the previous question was answered. This will take about 20-30 minutes to complete,” Archer said. “We hope that a large number of people will complete it because this will be their opportunity to influence how these indexes will look once they are completed.”

Archer and the American Angus Association staff have been visiting with producers in various segments of the industry to get their opinions face-to-face, an enjoyable experience that is also proving beneficial for the mind-set of the team ultimately building the index.

“It pays to go talk to people and listen,” Archer said. “There is no one answer that fits all. It is what people want and need. That is why we have worked with the Association and used their guidance.”

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