Genomics tools for commercial cattle producers: So what?

For the commercial cattle producer, crossbreeding is one of the least expensive ways to increase productivity, largely due to the resulting increase in hybrid vigour (scientifically known as heterosis / heterozygosity). In spite of this knowledge, the past 30 years have seen a continual erosion in heterosis in the cow herd as colour and “uniformity” became one of main considerations of cattle buyers. Crossbreeding, in contrast combines superior genetics from different breeds while eliminating any inbreeding depression. The Beef Cattle Research Council article “Have You Rotated Your Breeds Lately?” provides an excellent overview of why inbreeding depression occurs and some ways in which crossbreeding pays off so well for producers.

New tools are being developed that allow producers to use DNA to quantify heterosis (via breed composition) with an accuracy of 96%. This is superior to the degree of accuracy achieved with even the most accurate pedigree records due to the phenomenon of genetic “re-shuffling” that occurs on each chromosome in every generation. For example, an accurate pedigree calculation for a 100% Simmental bull crossed with a 50% Angus / 50% Hereford cow records a calf that is 50% Simmental x 25% Angus x 25% Hereford. In fact, the true genetics of the animal as a result of this “re-shuffling” might be 50% Simmental x 15% Angus x 35% Hereford. As an aside, the genomics method of breed composition automatically captures the neighbour’s bull who thinks the “grass” is greener on the other side of the fence.

But back to hybrid vigour… It is important to calculate heterosis accurately because the benefits are proportional (the greater the heterosis, the greater the benefits), the most economically important of which impact fitness, longevity, and reproductive productivity, the magnitude of which are as follows:

Every 10% increase in Vigour increases:

Pregnancy Rate                                 +2%                       2 more pregnancies per 100 cows*

Weaning Rate                                    +3%                       3 more weaned calves per 100 cows

Lifetime Productivity                      +79lbs                   79 additional pounds of saleable

calf over 5 calvings

Days in the Herd                               +51 days

So what does this mean for the commercial producer? Two things. One: knowing the heterosis present in heifers being considered as replacements helps you select for those animals that have the greatest probability of staying in the herd the longest and producing the most pounds of beef. At an estimated cost of $2,000 to develop a replacement heifer, the longer they last, the better your bottom line!

Second: knowing the genomics breed composition of your herd allows for the selection of those bulls / breeds that will allow you to continue to optimize your mating, selection, and culling decisions, the benefit of which have been estimated at over $200 as the return on the investment of a $45 genomic test. It’s all money in the bank.


* As an example, an increase in average Vigour in a 100-cow herd from 50% to 70% would be expected to result in an additional 4 pregnancies and 6 weaned calves per year; 158 additional pounds of saleable calf / cow over 5 calvings; and an increase in the average number of days a cow stays in the herd of 101 days.

Demonstration Days are here again

2017 was a year of exciting firsts for Gentec and Delta Genomics.

In February, we launched the first genomics application for the commercial cow-calf sector discovered and commercialized within Alberta. The collaboration between the Grey Wooded Forage Association (GWFA) and Gentec as part of the Cow-Forage Gentec Tour demonstration event was our first involvement with a forage association, making the GWFA the first to deliver this information to its members. Last August’s event was one of our most highly rated demonstration events, with particular positive comments on the forage component for cow-calf producers and on the impact of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (and Gentec collaborator) John Basarab’s presentation on genomics tools for commercial cow-calf producers.

Building on this success, Gentec and the Foothills Forage and Grazing Association (FFGA) in Southern Alberta are hosting two Forage to Beef Field-Demonstration Days in 2018: July 10 at the Waldron Ranch Grazing Cooperative (near Longview, AB), and July 11 co-located between Difficulty Ranch and at Whiskey Ridge Cattle Company (both near Didsbury, AB).

As in 2017, the overarching theme is sustainable beef production and the interaction of cows, forages and genomics in the optimal development and management of the cow-herd.

At the Waldron Ranch Grazing Cooperative on July 10, Mike Roberts, Ranch Manager, will compare plots that have never been grazed, continually grazed, and intermittently grazed. Here, presenters will discuss forage species, performance indicators, the production and environmental benefits (with yearling cattle on-site), the impacts of managing hybrid vigour within the cow herd as well as progress in developing genomic indexes for the commercial producer. There will also be a demonstration of how drones can be used in ranch management.

The second event, hosted jointly by Morrie and Debbie Goetjen (Whiskey Ridge Cattle Co.) and Sean and Holly LaBrie (Difficulty Ranch) will reflect the ecological and production techniques based on their local environmental conditions. They will showcase forage topics such as the cell, swath and bale-grazing techniques they use on-ranch, display their cow herd and discuss their beef production philosophy. The hybrid vigour and drone demonstrations from the previous day will be presented.

Both days will also see two prominent UofA Gentec collaborators presenting on the practical progress being made in forage production. Edward Bork, Director of UofA’s Rangeland Research Institute and Mattheis Chair in Rangeland Ecology and Management will use the forage plots on-hand to discuss the importance and methods of maintaining the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of rangelands at the producer level.

Barry Irving has been coaxed out of a retirement lasting approximately 21 days) will talk about how management and research on both the forage and beef side has impacted production practices over the course of his career. Barry is the former manager of UofA’s Agricultural Research Stations that includes the Mattheis and Roy Berg Kinsella Research Ranches. Each station is home to distinct forage environments and active cattle herds.

More information and registration information available at and