The stage was set on July 22, 2022, for over 100 kids from central Alberta to find out what their 6-month effort yielded. Members of 4H clubs had been feeding a steer through the winter, and were all keen to learn how their steer carcass placed in a regional and provincial competition. Oscar Lopez Campos from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada graded the carcasses for both competitions. But before getting those all-exciting results, the 4Hers toured Olds College and attended a presentation on the beef market.
With this backdrop, enter Livestock Gentec. In the corner of the auditorium, on a foldable table sat reports with the name of each 4Her and the CCIA number of the steer they raised. Inside each report was an introduction to genomics, several individualized genomic values (genomically-enhanced gEPDs, a Feeder Profit Index value, genomic breed composition and genomic retained heterozygosity) and a description of each tool. This way, each 4Her could get a report on the expected performance of their steer/steer’s progeny, the steer’s breed makeup and the amount of hybrid vigour present in that animal—all from a small hair (DNA) sample. That might not seem significant to a 10-year-old 4Her but, in commercial operations, these data could be a deciding factor between a profit or loss when selling a given animal.
For Gentec, the benefits of attending 4H events and being involved with this organization are clear. We are reaching out to the future ranchers of Alberta and introducing them to a novel, easy and a relatively inexpensive way of gaining a large amount of information on their animals. Instead of having to backtrack through hundreds of records and pedigrees of sires and dams, they can get accurate gEPDs from a single hair strand.
While some of the 4Hers “get it”, plenty of them had no idea what we were here for. Parents, too. As one put it, “We thought you guys were here to make sure the carcasses weren’t swapped for the competition. We had no idea you could predict performance from DNA.”
Beef Industry Liaison Clinton Brons quickly changed that lack of knowledge with an introduction and appreciation for Gentec’s funders, as did Knowledge Translator Diego Martinez with a short presentation on the genomic reports. Soon after, parents and kids collected their reports and the Gentec’s team answered questions.
Questions ranged from what the Feeder Profit Index is, what the genomic breed composition of an animal tells them and how hybrid vigour impacts replacement heifers and cows.
Over 130 4Hers have been exposed to genomics through these reports since April 2022 so… does that mean that Gentec has 130 new producers willing to test their herds genomically? Not quite. Over the past few 4H events, we’ve seen that some parents are keener than others, ask for more information and even provide their contact for follow up. And some 4H leaders/executives have already introduced this tech to their farms, like Paul Franz who spoke to Gentec earlier this year. This showcases the importance for research organizations like Gentec to reach out to grassroots organizations like 4H to communicate and demonstrate the validity and importance of tools and resources that research yields for the industry.
The 4H experience in 2022 has been fantastic for Gentec as it has shown a new approach to share information. The approach is two-fold: 1. Educate young farmers about genomics so they might be willing to use these tools when they take the reins of an operation, and 2. Give young kids the information with the hope that Dad/Mom or Grandpa/Grandma read it, like it and use it on their farm (or at least reach out for more information).
It is Gentec’s mission to develop validated genomic solutions to improve the competitiveness of the beef industry. Collaborating with 4H has given us the opportunity to increase trust in our validated tools, which will overall increase the productivity and sustainability of the Canadian beef industry.
If you are a 4H member/parent/leader interested in collaborating with Gentec—or if you are a producer interested in talking to a Gentec representative about genomics or possible research projects you could be involved in, reach out to us at email@example.com.
By Diego Martinez Mayorga