Genetic data and EPDs (expected progeny differences) have become a cornerstone in the beef industry, as has crossbreeding. But, with the genetic data in the hands of the various breed associations, comparing data across breeds is challenging. An organization is working to change that, to bring continuity to EPDs and to increase accuracy through increase data collection.
“International Genetic Solutions or IGS is a collaborative effort of a large number of breed associations, working together to provide more reliable, scientifically credible genetic predictions,” said Chip Kemp, IGS Commercial and Industry Operations, during a recent phone interview. “Specifically, the goal is to provide multi-breed genetic predictions.”
The system behind the IGS Multi-Breed Genetic Evaluation is called BOLT or Biometric Open Language Tools to run genetic evaluations. This combination of new software programming and faster computing hardware allows for more complete evaluations.
“BOLT is essentially the next generation that allows us to do single step,” said Kemp. “Single step allows you to utilize DNA technology and the phenotypes and pedigrees all in one fell swoop in one big computation and it makes the utilization of DNA much more accurate.”
In previous systems, the software would run DNA analysis separately from the actual performance data collected on the animal and the animals in the pedigree. Then, the two pieces of information are combined to create the EPDs.
Several breeds are collaborating in the IGS Multi-Breed Genetic Evaluation. The American Simmental Association, American Gelbvieh Association, North American Limousin Foundation, as well as Red Angus, Shorthorn, and Chianina.
The American Angus Association uses its own single step program for its evaluations.
“IGS is the largest beef genetic evaluation on the planet, by nearly twice the second largest one,” he said. “It gives seedstock producers the ability to offer more robust tools for commercial folks where they compare bulls of different breed types and have EPDs on an equivalent basis, you can directly compare without a bunch of minutia math.”
The EPD information from breed associations in the IGS Multi-Breed Genetic Evaluation is completely comparable. The values for Gelbvieh cattle are on the same scale as the values used for Simmental cattle.
The IGS system brings in data from over 325,000 cattle on an annual basis and that number is growing. This includes data from purebred, composite, and crossbred cattle of all major breed types relevant in the North America and Australia. As the amount of performance data collected increases and is compared to the corresponding DNA information collected, the system become increasingly accurate in its predictions of new cattle.
This is especially true when looking at crossbred genetics and performance.
“A perfect example would be if we just look at Simmental. Alone we get very valid predictions of Simmental cattle. But at the same time, there are going to be a lot of Simmental influenced genetics used on Angus and Red Angus cattle and on other groups,” he said. "By incorporating awareness from those composite and crossbreeding situations we greatly jump our predictive ability on SimGenetics for the commercial producer. Without that information, we don't have nearly as clear a picture of how SimGenetics react in the marketplace.”
By bringing in the data from multiple breeds and crossbreed cattle, the BOLT system takes into account how the different breeds’ genetics interact in real world performance leading to more accurate predictions.
“A crossbred cow is going to trump her purebred counterpart by a lot in terms of longevity and the amount of dollars she brings back to the operation,” said Kemp. “That's just scientifically proven.”
The very first EPD that IGS came out with through the BOLT system was multi-breed stay-ability. Essentially, how long will that female last, be productive and be profitable in the operation, cow longevity. This EPD was developed across the multiple breeds in the system and roughly 18 million head.
“Ultimately, cow longevity is the key and core sustainability metric,” he said. “Because the longer she lasts, the more money she makes for the producer and the less likely you are developing heifers that are standing around for multiple years doing nothing.”
Since its creation, IGS has increased it membership in the United States and Canada. They are also expanding their membership in Australia.
“It is becoming this global marketplace to get the clearest, most credible, most scientifically viable genetic predictions in a user friendly package,” said Kemp.