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The most fundamental part of a cowherd is its DNA. Now is the time for DVMs to get involved with genomic information to help producers manage defects and improve herd performance.
Most traits are genetically influenced whether they are desirable or undesirable. Discovery of a new genetic abnormality makes now a good time to insert a veterinarian’s expertise and perspective into DNA-based decisions.
The veterinarians’ traditional role puts them in a prime place to collect DNA samples during processing or breeding soundness exams. Then, their expertise and education can help producers make smart decisions to retain, and advance, a herd’s genetic progress.
Practitioners were right alongside producers as the industry and its technology rapidly advanced. Helping producers catch up, and keep up, is an area where veterinarians are uniquely qualified, says Bill Bowman, Chief Operating Officer of the American Angus Association, St. Joseph, MO.
“We recognize that veterinarians become one of the most sought-after resources that people have,” Bowman says. “One of the things we deal with a lot is a lack of understanding of those simple inheritance concepts. We have some cattle producers today that never had the opportunity to have formal training and education in specific areas of animal science genetics and breeding in college. A veterinarians’ education becomes a tremendous asset.”
Veterinarians are trusted to help ranchers make decisions about every other area of their animal health program and can play a major role in advising producers about genetics along with university extension personnel and breed association staff.
Practitioners can also insert outside perspective into a herd.
“Veterinarians can explain what a calving ease EPD means, and the importance of it in an operation,” Bowman says. “If I’m a vet assisting a calf out of a first-calf heifer, that’s a perfect time to talk about the importance of calving ease genetics.”
The data DNA testing brings to a cattle operation is only worthwhile if it’s used correctly, which is one of the reasons Jennifer Saueressig, Ph.D., ruminant nutritionist at Overton Veterinary Services in Overton, NE, began helping progressive producers in her area interpret genetic testing data.
“When feedyards get close outs, they may be stuck in a pile,” Saueressig says. “That’s what I thought would happen with genetic testing. As a clinic, we send tests in for producers and get the results back. Then, we take the time and make an appointment with them to go over all the genetic test results.”
Obtaining samples is simple to do when her clients are already working cows or replacement heifers.
Overton Veterinary Services proactively reached out for additional training in genomic based EPDs from Zoetis and began testing cattle using the High-Density 50K (HD 50K) for Angus DNA panel. Most of the clients using the test were also using the clinic’s nutrition services, so it was a natural fit for Saueressig to lead the efforts for the clinic.
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“All input costs have been greater than we’ve ever seen, so how do I justify paying for the test versus going in blind? We can look at feed efficiency, average daily gain, carcass characteristics and other EPDs, and say ‘these cattle have superior genetics, and these will be outliers.’ The producers we have know there is a value to be gained by using genetic testing as a tool,” she notes.
For the clinic, Saueressig says DNA testing and consulting provided another level of service for its clients.
“It’s great for all veterinarians and nutritionists to have constant communication,” she says. “It’s another value added service that can be provided through the clinic to producers. Giving opportunities and direction to our clients is valuable to them, and they see that.”