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Cow Herd Efficiency & Adaptability Committee:

National Program for Genetic Improvement of Efficiency in Beef Cattle: Aims & Results

by Troy Smith, field editor, for Angus Journal®


OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (June 14, 2013) — USDA is investing up to $5 million dollars in a multi-year study focused on improvement of feed efficiency in beef cattle. The charge of researchers involved is to increase understanding of influential factors and develop selection tools for feed efficiency among cattle of various breeds. However, according to University of Nebraska animal scientist and genetics specialist Matt Spangler, it must be done using multi-trait selection.


Spangler offered a review of the National Program for Genetic Improvement of Feed Efficiency in Beef Cattle, as well as a progress report, during the Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention in Oklahoma City. Spangler’s comments were delivered during a meeting of the Cow Herd Efficiency & Adaptability Committee. He called the grant-funded project a large collaborative effort involving USDA and a consortium of universities.


“This project is unique because it is integrated. Two-thirds of the funding goes to research, but a third goes toward outreach, or extension,” explained Spangler. “The outreach component is the technology transfer part. It involves stakeholders early on, engaging all segments of the beef industry.”


Research will include gene expression analysis of animals with differences in feed efficiency. Different measures of feed efficiency will be evaluated, along with differences in forage vs. concentrate level impacts on observed feed efficiency during different production phases. Researchers will also look at how variations in digestive tract microbial populations are associated with differences in feed efficiency.


Spangler said 12 cattle breeds are now included, with a total of 8,666 animals phenotyped. Relatively new results include Angus and Hereford heritability estimations for dry-matter intake and residual feed intake.


“Both appear to be moderately heritable,” said Spangler. “Interestingly, 10% of heritability for dry-matter intake appears to be influenced by one quantitative trait locus. That’s huge. It’s the kind of information we’re looking for.”


Quantitative trait loci (QTLs) are stretches of DNA containing or linked to the genes that underlie a quantitative trait. Mapping regions of the genome that contain genes associated with expression of a specific trait is an early step in identifying and sequencing the actual genes influencing trait variation.


While improvement of feed efficiency is a driver, Spangler said the research should result in the addition of other traits, such as disease resistance, to national cattle evaluations for calculation of expected progeny differences (EPDs), but those must be incorporated into selection indices, which consider production inputs as well as outputs.


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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