WINDHOEK – Namibian commercial beef herds and their owners were introduced to genomics during the annual Hartebeesloop Farmers Day of Dr Joggie Briedenhann.
The cornerstone was laid for the introduction of this groundbreaking DNA technology that has the ability to predict performance traits. Great advances have been made in the new technology over the past few years and it is now becoming a mainstream tool. Namibia is one of the first African countries to learn about the implementation of genomic testing. Other discussions during the day focused on the possibility of a drought with the theme being “Drought is only a bruise, not a tattoo.”
Tonya Amen, with Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI), says uptake of genomic testing has nearly doubled in the last year, but it is still used on less than 10 per cent of the animals in the breed’s registry. Yet comparing today to five years ago shows a broader range of commercial tools now and dramatic differences in the types of usage, she says. More recently, the growth in usage has come from the ability to predict performance traits. Genomic information is incorporated directly into the Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) with no need to look at the genomics separately for all cattle breeds using the National Cattle Evaluations standards. That is a boon to both commercial and registered producers. “There is one number to look at instead of trying to look at two sources of information and figure out how to properly weight them,” Briedenhann said. EPDs really are the selection tool of choice because they take into account all the information we have about an animal-their pedigree, any performance and progeny information and the genomics.
When a commercial breeder buys a bull that has genomic information in the EPDs, they are buying with the same level of confidence in that animal as one that has already sired between eight and 20 calves. It really increases the accuracy on those animals much, much earlier in their lives. The tests have gotten better, but also less expensive.
Costs of tests will be less than one per cent of an animal’s ten-year maintenance costs. In the drought situation where farmers have depopulated herds, farmers will have known quality genetics in their commercial heifers and minimising risks. Good health programmes and nutrition programmes can minimise risks by knowing what is out there in the pasture. Other farmers might use genomics as less of a culling tool and more of a management aid. They may test all the replacements they are certain they are keeping and then use gain and grade information to make strategic mating. Only the most progressive producers like Dr Briedenhann are using DNA tests today, but it is expected that numbers will grow.
It is as tool to help eliminate those cattle that are not going to perform, and also maximise performance in the cattle you do have. The added service not only helps build relationships, but also allows producers to get the most out of their cattle through adequate health programmes, nutrition programmes, genetic choices and addressing temperament of the cattle. DNA is the genetic code that determines how an organism grows, what it looks like, and how it performs in a specific environment. Found in all living things, DNA gets passed from one generation to the next, allowing these organisms to maintain or improve their ability to survive and thrive.
Genetic abnormalities can result in abortion, or death shortly after birth. If you suspect that you are seeing a genetic abnormality in your herd, talk to your veterinarian to determine what is causing the disease. If it is genetic, test your bulls for carrier status. Avoid buying bulls that are carriers for the disease, or crossbreed to another breed that does not have the disease. Genomics helps identify the best proteins to stimulate immunity and makes it much easier to multiply and produce these proteins in large quantities. This increases the effectiveness of the vaccine by making it more specific, with fewer side effects. It also decreases the cost of producing the vaccine.