Developing and applying new technologies in cow herds was the overall theme of the 36th annual Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Annual Meeting, May 25-28 in Sioux Falls, SD. Top industry leaders in the fields of genetics, reproductive technologies, economics, etc., presented and discussed research results with more than 400 attendees.

A few of the speakers and topics are highlighted below.

Developing Technologies

David Faber of Trans Ova Genetics highlighted technologies his firm is using. These include reproductive technologies, such as embryo transfer (ET), cloning, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and semen sexing. He says producers should expect even greater productivity improvements over the next decade, thanks to new technologies.

“The old tools won't go away, but the new tools will enhance their utilization,” he says. “… the greatest gain will come from the application of this technology.”

For example, producers who use ET technology may also use IVF to complement their program. IVF fertilizes the egg in a laboratory before it is transplanted into the donor animal. IVF is often used when valuable donor cows don't produce transferable embryos. It has also been shown to work in juvenile donors.

Mark Thallman, U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, outlined the industry's progress in DNA testing and marker-assisted selection for identifying genes. He emphasized that gene testing should be used as a tool along with EPDs in breeding selection, not as a replacement for EPDs, to add accuracy to decisions.

He dispelled one current myth. “Producers have been told an animal's genetic potential will be able to be determined by a simple DNA test,” Thallman says. “This leads to the expectation that DNA will simplify cattle breeding.”

Not true, he adds. More realistic is that phenotypes and DNA will be combined in the National Cattle Evaluation (NCE) to produce marker-adjusted, expected progeny differences (EPDs). But, DNA tests won't be included in the NCE until sufficient data has been collected, and the industry has a ways to go before it reaches that point, he says.

“Breed associations will play an important role in developing policies that prevent selective reporting and providing education on how to use this technology effectively and on how not to misuse it,” he adds.

Genetic Information

Dave Notter, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, spoke of incorporating genetic information into the NCE, and to exercise caution for how much emphasis to place on only a few genes.

“For most traits, genetic markers alone, as we have them today, are not going to account for enough genetic variation of the traits of interest to allow us to use genetic markers as the only selection trait,” Notter notes. “Instead, we'll need methods developed to combine information from genetic markers with information from performance reporting, and simply use them as a way to improve and certainly not replace EPDs.”

He says that partial genotyping of a few animals for a few markers is probably the most realistic scenario for the near future.

“We should anticipate that widespread use of a sire would trigger genotyping of that sire for the current marker array and of a sample of his progeny as needed for validation or future gene discovery,” Notter writes in his proceedings paper.

Bottom Line

Barry Dunn, King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, says agriculture traditionally has been slower to adopt new technologies than other industries. But, he cautions producers to take a long, hard look at a technology's bottom line and cost-effectiveness before making a switch.

He discussed the concept of marginality, and making sure small increases to herd productivity aren't cost-prohibitive. As an example, he says limiting factors make it much easier to improve a herd's pregnancy rate from 89% to 98%, than going from 98% to 99%.

“Along with that, the price for those small units of change goes through the roof,” he adds.

Dunn suggests conducting an extended cost analysis to determine if implementing the new technology is beneficial to the operation.

For more information on presentations, to listen to presentations or read the proceedings, visit www.bifconference.com.

BIF Award Winners

Annual award winners at the 2004 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) meeting in Sioux Falls, SD, include the Camp Cooley Ranch, Franklin, TX; and Olsen Ranch, Banner County, NE. The Camp Cooley Ranch, an 11,750-acre ranch owned by Klaus Birkel, was honored as BIF's 2004 Seedstock Producer of the Year; while Olsen Ranch was recognized as BIF's 2004 Commercial Producer of the Year.

Winning BIF's Pioneer Award, awarded to individuals who made lasting contributions to the improvement of beef cattle, were: Tom Jenkins, USDA Agricultural Marketing Association, U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC), Clay Center, NE; Joe Minyard, South Dakota State University educator; and Frank Felton of Mayville, MO, who was named posthumously.

Recognized for continuing service to BIF and the beef industry were Steve Kappas, director of MARC; Chris Christensen, Wessington Springs, SD, producer; Richard McClung, manager of Wehrmann Angus, Virginia; and Robert Hough, executive secretary, Red Angus Association of America.

Kindra Gordon, formerly the managing editor of BEEF magazine, received the Ambassador Award, given annually by BIF to a member of the media. Gordon, now of Spearfish, SD, is the sixth journalist with past or current ties to BEEF magazine to be so honored since the award's inception in 1986, and the fifth in the last six years.