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Emerging Technology Committee:

Breeding Healthier Cattle

by Lynsey Meharg, intern, for Angus Journal®


OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (June 14, 2013) — Investigating the use of producer-recorded data via on-farm management software programs for genetic improvement of health traits in U.S. dairy cattle may not seem like a topic for beef producers; however, there are similarities, said Kristin Gaddis, a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University, during committee meetings at the 2013 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) Symposium and Convention in Oklahoma City.


Kristen Gaddis
Kristen Gaddis

According to Gaddis, this data could be used to examine relationships among disease traits and between disease and production traits, and to develop optimized genomic-selection strategies. The questions are: Can producer-recorded data serve as reliable data to use for genetic analyses, and do health traits have a genetic component that could be used for selection?


With a background in the dairy industry, Gaddis conducted the experiment with dairy cattle, exploring the causes of mastitis and lameness and whether those traits were inherited or caused by environmental factors.


“These functional traits don’t increase production, but they increase profit by decreasing input,” Gaddis said. “We need to focus on improving the health and welfare of U.S. cows.”


Her research provided evidence supporting the usefulness of on-farm recorded health information. Furthermore, the data suggested improvements could be made with more complete data recording and standardized event definitions. She acknowledged that health events do have a genetic component, but proved through the experiment that they are lowly heritable and are largely influenced by environmental factors.


Through this experiment and the efforts of Gaddis and students like her, it was proven that economic information can be used to improve reliability of breeding value estimates.


“Healthy cows are more profitable because they require less management,” Gaddis said. “Less input costs make me money!”


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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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