By Mr. Jacque Els, Manager of the Namibian Stud Breeders’ Association
The era of genomics doesn’t mean the end of collecting phenotypic data. In fact, the very accuracy of genomic-estimated breeding values depends on the gathering of accurate phenotypic data.
Genomics isn’t a panacea that will offer answers to all questions. Breeders will have to continue to collect phenotypic data, especially for traits that are difficult to measure, like fertility (accurate days-to-calving and duration of pregnancy), meat quality (scanning and laboratory testing of meat samples), efficiency of feed intake, and traits that can’t be measured yet, for instance adaptability and hardiness, says Mr. Jacque Els, manager of the Namibian Stud Breeders’ Association (NSBA). Els also serves as technical advisor to the Namibian Brahman Breeders’ Society (NBBS), which is participating in the Southern African Beef Genomics Program (BGP). Breeders send their birth registrations to him, as well as performance data like animal weights, scanning records for meat and carcass traits, measurements for hip height, and scrotal circumference. At the end of the calving period he also receives cow details relating to days-to-calving. Els uploads the data to the Breedplan system, which is then sent to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in South Africa once a week. Els has been involved in the BGP since its inception in 2012 and has been working with the NSBA since March 2010.
Els says some Namibian Brahman bulls are producing progeny with excellent beef characteristics. “The BGP is already proving its worth for breeders through the scientific
identification of bulls that will breed progeny with excellent beef quality.” Significant progress has been made over the past decade regarding the volume of data collected, the number of traits for which data is collected, and for which there are now estimated breeding values. “The days are over where only parentage and birth weight, weaning weight, weight at 400 days and 600 days, and that of the adult cow are measured. Today ultrasound scanning of live animals are done between the ages of 300 and 800 days to determine carcass traits. Scrotal circumference, days-to-calving, the gestation length (length of pregnancy), as well as temperament are also measured.” The NBBS has been striving, over the past decade, to annually increase the number of breeders participating in performance testing. Approximately 83% of breeders, who collectively hold 95% of registered Brahman, already participate. Most of them have been awarded with scores of 1,5 to 2 stars (out of 5) in Breedplan’s project for thoroughness of record-keeping, but the breeders’ society is aiming for a minimum average of 3 to 3,5 stars. Six breeders have received 4-star awards, three received 4,5 stars, and four received 5-star awards. The completeness of performance records can be used as an indicator of the trustworthiness of the breeder’s overall data recording.
The NBBS has played a leading role in the establishment of economic indexes for the Brahman breed. Extensive grazing indexes were introduced in 2013, and in 2014 the weaning and feedlot indexes followed. In 2015 the NBBS played a leading role in the establishment of the Southern African and International Brahman Breed Improvement Forums. The first international Brahman breeding-values evaluation was made available last year. South Africa, Namibia, Australia and America participated.
The Brahman breed is now nearly at a stage where genomic estimated breeding values (G-EBVs) can be made available, and a single-step analysis can be put into operation where the animal’s pedigree, performance, and genomic information can be used to
calculate G-EBVs. In July 2017 the first estimated breeding values for days-to-calving and temperament were published. This progress was made possible through continuous, accurate data collection.
THE BGP’S ORIGIN
The BGP came into being in 2012 during a meeting at the ARC in Pretoria. The NBBS decided to participate in the project, in collaboration with the Brahman Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa, from inception. Phase 1 started in April 2015 and ended on 31 March 2018, with 512 bulls from NBBS genotyped, 472 bulls evaluated for net feed intake, and 66 samples submitted for the measurement of meat quality.
Els says it is still too soon to measure the impact of the project. There is however already great improvement in the accuracy of breeding values of link-bulls in the project. They are Namibian bulls that are exchanged, sold and used between BGP herds. “The importance of meat quality has definitely resulted in breeders taking breeding values and carcass trait breeding values more serious when considering what stud bulls to buy. “Bulls with both good breeding values and carcass trait breeding values from herds where special focus is placed on selection for carcass traits, have achieved good prices during the past few years,” says Els.