From the Gate Post
By Bruce Holmquist General Manager
The Three Legged Stool
any of you are now aware of the extensive amount of work that Canadian Simmental is conducting in the area of breed improvement, and specifically through the field of genomic science. As a result of this there are questions of why the CSA has undertaken this work and why Simmental is playing a lead role in bringing the technology to the Canadian beef industry. In order to at least partly explain it is necessary to assess the tools that breed associations provide to their members and through that process to picture beef improvement as something that is taking shape as a three-legged stool; one that can be precarious at times but if used properly works very well. All three of the legs contribute to the structure but if one is missing it becomes somewhat of a balancing act. In order to best explain what each of those legs are we need to revisit our history of genetic improvement in the seed-stock industry. Hundreds of years ago genetic improvement began quite by chance; Improvement was done randomly through unrecorded matings, and as a result some worked better than others. The human eye was the measuring stick and when those superior animals were produced it is easy to imagine someone noticing that when Ruby was mated to Randy they produced a pretty good calf that appeared to be better than some of the other matings in the herd. That may have been the first step in the process of recording and maintaining pedigrees. Over the centuries those pedigrees were assesed to identify the lineage of superior animals and to see which ancestors were common between them; those genetics were then focused upon and duplicated. The next major advance of genetic improvement arrived in the form of performance testing. Traits such as birth weights, weaning and yearling weights were the starting point and told 16
the breeder how an animal performed as an individual. These raw numbers were then adjusted to a standard age although the numbers were and are still influenced greatly depending on the management conditions that the animal was developed under. The process of contemporary groups, genetic evaluations and EPDs were then developed and were later supplemented with milk, carcass and maternal traits; this for the most part was based on data accumulated from the performance of the offspring. Some folks became very performance and number focused believing that was the most important selection tool and lost focus on the structural appearance and soundness of the animal. More recently the field of genomics has become more affordable and is quickly being integrated into the beef industry. Phenotypic data is being combined with the animalâ€™s genotype and used to identify and validate the genetic potential of an animal with greater accuracy and with far less bias. This data is then displayed in the form of a genetically enhanced EPD providing the third and possibly most important leg of the stool. The pedigree and visual assessment tells us who the animal is; the performance of that animal tells us what he or she did, however genomics will provide the means to more accurately predict what the animal is genetically capable of providing to its offspring. In our commitment to inform producers about the tools we are providing and to update on the usage of Genomic technology within the beef industry; the Canadian Simmental Association will be hosting a symposium in Calgary July 15th and 16th, 2013. We encourage as many members and their customers, as well as our other beef industry partners, to attend and gain a better understanding of the changing science of genetic improvement and how it can improve your operationâ€™s productivity and bottom line.