Geneticist joins MU Extension to help cow herd owners breed quality beef
Owners of commercial beef herds baffled by all those numbers in bull catalogs should meet Jared Decker.
Decker joined the University of Missouri Extension beef team as a geneticist, filling a long-vacant position. He’s already attending producer and industry meetings—and bull sales.
His first priority, he says, will be to help cow herd owners improve breeding decisions. He’ll teach how to use expected progeny differences. Those numbers ease decisions when buying bulls, semen or replacement heifers.
While those numbers have been around awhile, they are not widely understood by many producers. “EPDs help make good decisions,” Decker says.
Even more important will be to understand EPD accuracies. Not all carry the same weight, he says.
There are “paper EPDs” based on pedigrees. More accurate EPDs are based on production of offspring. The more calves evaluated, the higher the accuracy. The latest are genomic-enhanced EPDs. Those include previous information plus analysis of the animal’s DNA.
By pulling hair samples from a bull or heifer’s tail, thousands of DNA markers can be examined.
That information, combined with data from pedigrees and progeny testing, give one EPD number to guide selection. Genomic information adds value by reducing chances of making a bad buying decision.
More accurate EPDs lead to lower risks and better opportunities to provide high-quality beef.
The amount of available genetic information has exploded.
Initially, EPDs covered predictions of a few traits, such as birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight and milk.
Now breed associations continually add EPDs for new traits, such as meat quality. The American Angus Association offers 16 EPDs.
With all of those numbers, confusion is reduced by making performance indices that combine many traits. Economics are added to form dollar-value indices as well.
Dollar indices, such as $Beef or $Wean, ease decision-making for multi-trait selections, Decker says. “Instead of studying 16 numbers, a producer looks at one to find the superior animal.”
Producers must make sure that they have the latest EPD numbers. EPDs change constantly as more data becomes available, he cautions.
Several breed associations offer genomic-enhanced EPDs based on DNA tests. They include Angus, Hereford, Limousin, Simmental and Gelbvieh.
That information is found on breed websites, sire books from semen providers and bull sale catalogs.
“The numbers help make better decisions when shopping for a cleanup bull this spring,” Decker says.
He says another audience will be seed stock producers who raise bulls for sale to commercial herds. With that advanced audience, Decker will teach how EPDs are calculated. Also, there are various genetic tests available. All the data aims at making better breeding decisions.
Quality beef, bringing better profits, becomes important.
Decker has been working in the MU bovine genomic lab led by Jerry Taylor, who was on the team that deciphered the original cattle genome in 2009.
Decker grew up on a ranch in New Mexico and showed calves at the county and state fairs. He earned a degree in animal science at New Mexico State University, graduating with highest honors.
For his advanced degree, Decker said he looked around the country for the best place to study genomics. That’s why he came to MU, where he received a Ph.D. in genetics with a minor in statistics in 2012.
Since then, he was a USDA-NIFA postdoctoral fellow at MU.
Two years ago, he spoke at a field day at the MU Thompson Farm, Spickard. There be began honing his skills in talking to farm groups, he says.
Decker will work with 28 regional Extension livestock specialists to reach Missouri producers. Contact him at DeckerJE@missouri.edu.
He will continue his research on the cattle genome started in the Taylor lab. The genomic lab is in MU Animal Science at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.