Beef Cow Adaptability

BILLINGS, MONTANA (July 7, 2005) — During the Selection Decisions Committee meeting, discussion included the potential need to identify opportunities to improve the environmental adaptability of beef cattle through genetic selection. Bill Hohenboken, a geneticist associated with Virginia Tech and Oregon State University, spoke on behalf of an ad hoc committee appointed by the National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium (NBCEC).

According to Hohenboken, the committee favors initiation of new research aimed at enhancing the ability of beef cattle to adapt to challenges presented by varying production environments. Reasons include increased transportation of cattle and rapidly changing management systems. Cows now produce their first calf at 2 rather than 3 years of age, animals often are maintained at higher densities per unit of land area, and cattle are fed higher-energy diets.

“Management systems and environments are changing more rapidly than animal populations can adapt to such changes through natural selection,” Hohenboken stated. “In general, management is more intensive, which may crank up health, nutritional or metabolic stress. And many cattle inhabit several different environments during their lifetime.”

A committee report noted how national and international trade of breeding animals, semen and embryos now allows animals to produce offspring in environments very different from that to which they were adapted. Additionally, little is known about genetic correlations between traits affecting adaptability and those affecting production. Intense selection on the basis of production traits may come at the expense of decreased genetic ability for environmental adaptability.

Hohenboken said improved adaptability could enhance the profitability of beef producers, as cattle that are particularly adapted to their environment incur lower costs than unadapted yet otherwise comparable cattle. Other benefits include increased animal well-being, conservation of resources and more desirable products for beef consumers.

“There is a need for breeding objectives that would rationally combine selection for production, product quality and adaptation,” Hohenboken stated. “Decision support tools are needed to evaluate alternative breed choices and mating systems for adaptability and production efficiency within specific environments and their specific challenges.”

Hohenboken said the committee will submit a report to USDA-Animal Research Service, seeking support for research and development of programs for genetic improvement of beef cattle adaptability.

— by Troy Smith, field editor, Angus Productions Inc._© Copyright 2005 Angus Productions Inc.

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