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The growth in DNA usage for commerical cattle herds has come from the ability to predict performance traits.
The Rancher's Resource
The veterinarians say only their most progressive customers are using DNA tests today, but they expect that number to grow.
“Part of our job is to help people maximize the value they put into their cattle,” Dr. Spare says. “Coming alongside them we’re saying, ‘Hey, what about using this tool to help eliminate those cattle that aren’t going to perform, and also maximize performance in the cattle you do have?’”
He’s also used the test on his cattle and, like Dr. Kirkman, says that experience gives him a lot of common ground with clients.
Both offer the service of taking blood samples and sending them in for ranchers.
“There are some people that by nature just don’t want to try new things,” Dr. Spare says. “So a comment we often have is, ‘We can do that.’”
The added service not only helps build relationships, but also allows producers to get the most out of their health program.
“People add value to their cattle in four ways,” Dr. Spare says. “They do it through adequate health programs, through nutrition programs, through genetic choices and addressing temperament of the cattle. You take any one of those four away and the stool falls down, potential is not maximized.”
Dr. Kirkman says producers who have never gotten feedback on their genetics from others in the chain may fail to realize this.
“Typically those producers would not have access to that information, but genomics gives them a foothold in that door to improve,” he says. “Even if it’s just to say, ‘Look, this is where we started from.’”
Lee recommends producers use the information when they offer cattle for sale, too.
“You can’t just do everything right and expect people to pay you more for them,” she says. “Whether it’s genomic testing or having a premium health program within your cow herd, you have to be able to communicate that. Progressive practices also require progressive marketing.”
Dr. Spare says that applies to veterinary practices as well.
“People have given us the opportunity to serve them and it’s our job to be good listeners,” he says. “Every day has to be a good day in the life of a calf and that’s why a good veterinarian is more into production health than medicine.
“That’s how we can help customers get $150 to $200 in per-head premiums,” Dr. Spare says. “And that’s our goal, helping people to be successful.”
DNA Testing Tips
Adding a blood draw to routine cattle processing is often a simple way to collect the DNA sample.
“If you are working with your females, go ahead and pull that sample,” suggests Kara Lee, CAB Supply Programs Manager.
Even if there is doubt about submitting the samples for testing, blood cards can be archived. “The great thing about DNA is that information isn’t going to change whether you pull a sample on a calf the day it’s born or the day it’s harvested. It’s not like ultrasound where you have to catch the animal at a specific time,” she says.
Here are some simple steps to make sure a customer’s first experience with DNA testing yields positive results:
- Make sure you have test kits on hand (either blood or hair cards specifically designed for DNA testing).
- Blood on a card from GeneMax is preferred for that test.
- Samples in red- or purple-topped tubes are messy and take too much time during processing.
- Make sure cards dry thoroughly in a clean area out of the sun prior to closing or stacking.
- Store at room temperature indefinitely.
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