Introduction to the BIF 2023 Symposium on Precision Breeding: Technical breakouts, Olds College Program and conference tour

This year’s BIF symposium focuses on practical ways to make selection decisions (and genetic improvement in general) more precise and better tailored to your environment and market. The Symposium program encompasses the most recent advances in tools and technology, with a strong focus on practical application. It includes world-renown Canadian hospitality, producer recognition awards, a tour of the Technology Access Centre and new meat-processing teaching facility at Olds College, a showcase of the data-integrated beef production value chain, and most notably, nine scientific sessions that discuss the state of the art with regard to genetic improvement. Last month, we focused on the Young Producer Symposium, the Plenary sessions and Wednesday’s Technical Breakouts: this month, the Technical Breakout sessions on Tuesday and the can’t-miss feedlot tour.

TECHNICAL BREAKOUT SESSIONS – Tuesday, July 4, 2:30 – 5 pm

Advancements in Selection Decisions, chaired by Dr. Matt Spangler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Dr. Larry Keuhn, USDA, will kick off this technical breakout discussing breed differences, and how to leverage these for the best outcomes. Genetic diversity has become increasingly important in the dairy industry, and this has started to reflect in the beef industry. Dr. Filippo Miglior will discuss quantifying inbreeding levels and contemplating inbreeding in selection from a dairy perspective. Dr. Troy Rowan, University of Tennessee, will bring it all together by discussing advancements in genomic technology.

Advancements in Producer Applications, chaired by Dr. Darrh Bullock, University of Kentucky

This session dives into the value of genomics and genetic selection tools, particularly from a commercial producer perspective. “Why commercial producers should be interested in genomics”, and indeed why EPDs (or even gEPDs) should be a key tool for all producers will be tackled first by Dr. Troy Rowan, University of Tennessee, and then by a panel of producers: Sean McGrath (member of Gentec’s Management Advisory Board), Harold Bayes, Paul Bennett and Donnell Brown. Gentec Director of Beef Operations John Basarab will talk in Wednesday’s genomics and genetic prediction breakout about the Gentec tools available to help producers start using genomic information (the Replacement Heifer Profit Index™ and Feeder Profit Index™: see also page 12 of The Blade for a case study). To complement, Shannon Argent from the Canadian Cattle Association Verified Beef Production (VBP+) will talk about how emerging sustainability demands can be met by genetics.

Advancements in Efficiency and Adaptability, chaired by Dr. Mark Enns, Colorado State University

Always generating great interest, this session speaks to current profitability and sustainability drivers of selection. Dr. Megan Rolf, KSU, will present on current research around methane and feed intake, concentrating on the collection protocol for GHGs and what opportunity in the beef industry the resulting data present. Dr. Tim Holt, CSU, will speak to advancements in adaptability, with a focus on “Pulmonary Hypertension: Feedlot Heart Failure and High-Altitude Disease”. Dr. Holt has contributed to the pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) measurement guidelines for the Beef Improvement Federation, and has developed a heart-scoring system to determine levels of pulmonary hypertension and heart tissue remodelling at harvest. Dr. Scott Speidel, CSU, will expand on the topic by discussing the genetics driving those heart scores and the relationships with performance. To frame some of the talks, Dr. Justin Buchannan, Simplot, will wrap up this session and give his take on feedlot heart disease from the perspective of a vertically-integrated production chain.

Afternoon – Wednesday, July 5


In the afternoon, there is a tour of Olds College Campus from 3 pm to 6:30 pm, which includes a visit to the National Meat Training Centre, Olds College Smart Farm, and Technology Access Centre. Additionally, there is a microbrewery and “Beef in a Global Way” tasting.

POST BIF SYMPOSIUM TOUR – Thursday, July 6, 8 – 5:30 pm

This includes a personal tour through Rimrock Feeders, one of Canada’s most cutting-edge feedlots that applies technologies such as biodigesters and roller-compacted concrete to improve production efficiency and animal health and welfare.

Travelling through the heart of Alberta’s ranchlands on the picturesque Cowboy Trail, we will also visit Hamilton Farms, a seedstock operation eager to showcase its application of genomic technology, high immune response testing, and genetic improvement through an integrated value chain and data-sharing system. UCalgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine will also be showcased here. Faculty members are dedicated to studying the impacts of maternal environment in beef cattle. Tour participants can expect presentations on the impact of different pain mitigation strategies after difficult calving, risk factors associated with mismothering, and the economic impact of maternal behaviour. The faculty also does a significant amount of work on disease epidemiology, and there will be presentations on the incidence of disease based on bull management practices, effective management practices to reduce preweaning calf loss and parasite control strategies.

Just west of Hamilton Farms is UCalgary’s own W.A. Ranches, a working commercial operation that allows for in-field research on calving interventions, human – animal interactions, the effects of wildlife (wild boar, for example) on cattle, bull behaviour, and calf preconditioning. The tour will include a home-raised, home-smoked Hamilton Farms beef lunch against a backdrop of our majestic Rocky Mountain range.

Kajal Devani

Canadian Angus Association





At the Grill with William Torres: Fire! Fire!

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) talks about wildfire season and how cattle can be mitigating factors.

Did you know that Alberta had 1,246 wildfires in 2022? Where 61% of them were human-caused, 38% lighting caused, and 1% under investigation.

As I was preparing for this article, I thought I’d give some advice about the “upcoming fire season” only to realize that we have already had 27 wildfires in Alberta, 11 in the last seven days alone.

But what do wildfires have to do with cattle you ask? Over the last several years, wildfires on agricultural lands have increased, causing damage to orchards, crops, livestock, and farm infrastructure. Outside of the direct flames, smoke damages crop quality, such as grapes used in wine production. Agricultural areas with irrigated crops are often viewed as being safety buffers during wildfires. However, in the last decade, wind-driven heat from surrounding wildfires has burned into some surprisingly well-irrigated crops. Smoke inhalation also has a negative effect on circulating immune cells, which can hinder the respiratory system, the first defence against smoke inhalation.

A factor called Temperature Humidity Index (THI) is a single value that represents the combined effects of air temperature and humidity associated with the thermal level of stress. According to Dr Julia Herman from the NCBA Beef Quality Assurance program, “THI compounds the effects of wildfire smoke. There can be negative impacts on metabolism, milk production, and immune system function when cattle are exposed to either or both wildfire smoke and high THI.”

There are very few peer-reviewed articles on wildfire effects on cattle, particularly in Western Canada. But do we really need to spend research money and grants to understand that they are not good for the cattle? I mean, if we humans can see and feel the effects, what makes anyone think that livestock are exempt?

Go ahead… ask any producer who has experienced either a wildfire or fled from one with their livestock. They won’t paint a pretty picture. The stress of rounding up livestock is bad enough under normal circumstances. Add chaos, wildfire smoke and high THI, and they will be the ingredients for a mess to come. If you ever must deal with the above-mentioned situations, pay attention to signs of respiratory irritation, such as coughing, fast or heavy breathing, and general signs of illness such as droopy ears or discharge from nose or eyes. Remember to limit exercise and unnecessary movements of the animals, practise low-stress handling and keep water sources clean.

So… what can you do or what is being done to prepare for such disasters? Here’s the beauty: cattle are already at work mitigating wildfires while grazing forests. When cattle graze on our forest lands, they are better suited than goats or sheep to consume the grass-dominated fuel lines that burn, and they don’t need the protection from predators that other small species require. I remember running our “grass” cattle in crown land and private land during late spring and summer months. One thing for sure, the genetics that you selected for your herd showed up at work during these periods. As cattle consume overgrown grass and shrubs, they naturally aerate the ground while walking, then they defecate and spread seeds along the way, giving growth to new humid grass that won’t burn as fast.

At home, you should incorporate fire procedures in your emergency plan. Have potential exits, round-up procedures, trucking companies that you may have to call upon, coordinate with your neighbours. It is better to be prepared and not need to execute a disaster plan than to be in the middle of it and not know what to do at the last minute. Contact your veterinarian to help you prepare one if you need help.





Picking Replacement Heifers

Canadian Cattlemen reviews project results from Gentec’s John Basarab and Cameron Olson on heifer feed efficiency and lifetime productivity. 

Read the article here.

Part 1: GHGs and the beef industry. Solutions are coming

Beef has been likened to coal for its production of greenhouse gases. That sound byte is neither accurate nor fair. For sure, there are challenges to overcome, and we’re working fast to overcome them. This is Part 1 of our series on upcoming solutions.

It is unlikely that even the among the most reclusive there exists an individual who has not heard of the impacts and dire warnings regarding the rising human population, our increasing carbon intensity and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and the combined impact of these on our earth’s climate.

Many will be less familiar with the fact that that the global food system accounts for 21-37% of annual GHG emissions. Of these emissions, methane is among the most potent, often referenced as having more than 25 times the climate impact of CO2; it is also estimated that agricultural activity is responsible for 50% of the global methane emissions produced by humans.

Closer to home, in 2019 about 24% of Canada’s methane emissions originated within the agricultural sector. 90% or 21.65 million tonnes of methane was generated as a result of cattle and sheep production. (Editor’s note: Gentec collaborator and AAFC livestock specialist Karen Beauchemin is quoted in the link).

Still … A world’s got to eat.

It is expected that, with a growing population combined with a propensity to consume more protein per person (globally), the world will need to produce 70% more food in the coming decades. Who could blame them for wanting to enjoy safe, delicious, nutritious AND sustainable Alberta Beef.

So… what can be done?

John Basarab, Gentec Head of Beef Operations points out that Gentec and our industry and funding partners are investing significant resources towards improving the environmental footprint of Alberta beef production. This, by definition, increases industry sustainability. It is, however and by necessity, a stepped approach. Certain steps can be taken immediately and have an immediate impact.  Examples include modifying feeding regimes and/or the adding feed supplements such as lemongrass, seaweed or garlic to inhibit methane production.

Other, mid-term interventions, while more gradual in their impact, could reduce the beef-environmental footprint much more. These include genomics tools (molecular breeding values) to select for improved feed efficiency, reduced methane emissions, and other traits that can increase the productivity of the beef producer while improving quality.

And finally, longer-term interventions impacting health (such as vaccine development) and those that alter the microbial populations of the rumen show perhaps the greatest potential to reduce methane emissions.

But research and data are not enough. Each advance requires validation, demonstration and effort to get the tools and information necessary to reap the benefits of “science” into the hands of Alberta beef producers.

So, between us here at Gentec, our funding partners such as RDAR, our industry collaborators, and most importantly the individual beef producers… it truly is a team effort.

More information on each of these approaches along with their potential to improve the profitability and sustainability of the Alberta beef industry will appear in future editions of this newsletter. Stay tuned