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Cow Herd Efficiency & Adaptability Committee:

Utilization of Genetic Resources to Match Environmental Conditions

by Troy Smith, field editor, for Angus Journal®


OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (June 14, 2013) — Not all breeders of beef cattle want to introduce the freshest genetics to their cow herds. A Texas ranch is expecting a crop of calves sired by bulls from generations long past. It’s possible because of the genetic material “banked” by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP) repository in Fort Collins, Colo. NAGP Director Harvey Blackburn talked about the program during the 2013 Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention in Oklahoma City June 12-15.


Reporting to the Cow Herd Efficiency & Adaptability Committee, Blackburn explained that, since 1999, the NAGP has collected, evaluated and stored animal germplasm from animals considered important to agriculture. Germplasm consisting of semen, embryos and other tissues containing genetic information has been cryogenically preserved for the purpose of securing biodiversity and to provide economic benefits to the agriculture industry. Among the 35 animal species represented at the Fort Collins repository are multiple breeds of beef cattle.


According to Blackburn, germplasm samples are used for research purposes, but an important part of the NAGP mission is to maintain a collection of genetic resources. The repository might prove invaluable if it became necessary to re-establish cattle populations following a catastrophic event. Blackburn cited a widespread outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) as an example.


A current experiment involving NAGP resources is designed to scale back mature cow size on a West Texas ranch, near Marfa. Blackburn explained how the management team at the Dixon Water Foundation Ranch became concerned that, over time, its cattle had become too large and less-suited to the high-desert environment’s forage resources. The proposed solution is to select for cattle of more moderate mature size by using “older” genetics from Hereford sires in the NAGP repository.


“Our Hereford collection includes [samples] from 327 bulls, coming from a broad geographic range that includes Canada and 30 states,” stated Blackburn, noting that unique subpopulations represented include Line 1, Prospector and old Fort Robinson lines. “The oldest samples date back to 1948.”


Blackburn said the experiment involves 60 cows, from the Dixon Water Foundation Ranch and Sul Ross State University, that have been bred to Hereford repository bulls. Representatives of the “1996 era” were targeted for bull selection. For the planned duration of the experiment, progeny growth, carcass characteristics of grass-finished steers, long-term female performance and grazing behavior will be evaluated.


“We’ve got the cows bred to identified bulls, and we’re waiting for the first group of calves,” reported Blackburn. “Results should give us some insight if more moderate cattle will increase productivity and profitability. The resulting progeny could also serve as a resource for production system adaptability.”


Blackburn said this experiment will not represent the first population regenerated from the gene bank, but this will be the most comprehensive NAGP project to date.


Return to the Newsroom for links to the PowerPoint presentation that accompanied this presentation.


Editor’s Note: This summary was written under contract or by staff of Angus Productions Inc. (API). Through an agreement with the Beef Improvement Federation, we are encouraging reprinting of the articles to those who will adhere to the reprint guidelines available on this site. Please review those guidelines or contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270. PowerPoints are posted with permission of the presenter and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express permission of the presenter.

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Headquartered in Saint Joseph, Mo., API publishes the Angus Journal, the Angus Beef Bulletin, the Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA, and the Angus Journal Daily, as well as providing online coverage of events and topics pertinent to cattlemen through the Angus Journal Virtual Library.  

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