Chief technician at the Agricultural Research Council’s Beef Cattle Improvement Scheme, Frans Jordaan, discusses the genetic-based guidelines for ensuring the best purchase at an auction.
The days of buying bulls based purely on their functional appearance are over. Yes, of course, functional efficiency is crucial, but what is equally important is a buyer’s knowledge of the genetic potential or merit of the bulls prior to the auction.
This enables an informed decision to be made on auction day.
For both commercial and stud breeders, auction catalogues are not always easy to interpret, especially at an auction amidst much activity and with limited time.
Being well-informed on the interpretation of BLUP breeding values – which depict the genetic potential of an animal – can be highly advantageous in assisting breeders to meet their breeding objectives more quickly.
The question is: do breeders really understand these figures and the use of breeding values as a selection tool?
It is always risky to buy a registered bull without breeding values, particularly because of its potentially major genetic impact on a herd.
In addition, genetic improvement is a slow process and can be achieved only over generations. The wrong choice of bull may thus be genetically detrimental to your herd; recovery from damage could be costly and a setback to achieving breeding goals.
Although genetic change is easy to achieve, genetic improvement in a positive direction (improvement in weaning weight breeding values, for example) is much more difficult.
If the stud breeder succeeds in achieving genetic improvement, this will also benefit the commercial beef producer by enabling him to increase profitability in his own enterprise.
Often, experienced breeders will tell you that they are familiar with certain breeding lines and bulls, and that they can visually see the qualities that they want in a bull.
However, there are variations within breeds; frame type, for instance, can differ, and young bulls still in the developmental stage can make visual selection challenging. In addition, an animal’s visual appearance does not reflect breeding alone but is a combination of breeding (genetics), management and feeding.
Poor feeding can hide good genetics and good feeding can hide bad genetics.
Although functional efficiency will always be important, the wrong choice of bull can have a negative effect that may be discovered only after a generation or even later in the production cycle of a calf crop.
A phenotypic weaning index of above 100 does not guarantee good genetic material; rather, it implies that the animal performed above average within its own contemporary group.
It is the genetic quality of the group that will determine the level of genetics, and can perhaps be compared to a rugby game: will the excellent flyhalf playing for Pofadder perform up to par when playing for the national team?
The following are important to ask when considering genetic principles:
Breeding values across breeds are not comparable. Therefore a breeding value of +5 for weaning weight for a Bonsmara bull is not comparable with a Simmentaler bull with the same breeding value.
Rather, the breed average of the specific breed should be a benchmark to gauge the performance for a specific animal for a specific trait, such as wean direct. It is important to be aware of this, particularly for commercial farmers.
Breeding value indices
There is good news for commercial beef producers who are familiar with indexes. Breeding value indexes also appear on some of the breed’s auction catalogues and these can be interpreted as normal indexes, such as phenotypic weaning indexes.
A breeding value index of 100 means that the animal is average for a specific trait within the entire breed, and not just within its contemporary group. The same principle applies to an animal with a breeding value index above 100, which will be genetically better than the average animal in the breed for a specific trait.
The commercial breeder will focus more on growth traits because these are of more economic value to him. However, the stud breeder can also ensure that other traits of
importance are captured in young potential breeding animals, which will ultimately be of benefit to the commercial breeder.
Reproduction, the most important trait in genetic selection, should already be captured in the young bull’s genetic ability, and be to the benefit of the bull buyer. If the buyer interprets breeding values correctly, the following selections are achievable:
In this case, the bull will have breeding values above breed average for all the growth traits, such as birth, weaning, one year and 18 months. It is also important to mate these bulls with mature cows to avoid calving problems.
A terminal bull will increase cow efficiency drastically without any increase in input costs and an increase in output with heavier weaned calves.
Breeding values in a sales catalogue should be seen as a selection aid, not as a challenge.
Try to obtain the auction catalogue well before the auction and make a shortlist of bulls that fit into your breeding goals. On the day of the auction, you can then select the best-looking bull from this short list.
Be aware of extreme breeding values. A good-looking bull may not have the desired breeding values, but a bull with desired breeding values may be a good-looking bull!
Experienced ARC personnel in the beef industry are available in all the provinces and can be contacted for assistance with any information in this article, as well as for other field-related services such as real-time ultrasonic scanning, bull growth testing and selection of breeding material.
Phone Frans Jordaan on 012 672 9085 or email Fransj@arc.agric.za.
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