Simmentaler profitability assessed at a glance

Thanks to breeder and animal scientist Dr Johan Kluyts, the Simmentaler cattle breed is the first to benefit from breeding values for profitability. Rudi Massyn reports.
Issue date: 6 March 2009.

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A revolutionary, profit-based
selection system for Simmentalers has been developed by Dr Johan Kluyts, a leading Simmentaler breeder and animal scientist. His goal was to introduce and quantify profitability as an estimated breeding value (EBV) in the selection of Simmentalers in Southern Africa, which will help improve the economics of beef production. Selection criteria have traditionally been based on appearance (conformation), adaptation to the environment and animal performance, but Dr Kluyts explains these criteria have their limitations. “The economic approach is a balanced, multi-trait approach quantifying the economic values of existing EBVs,” he explains. “Instead of selecting for good-looking animals with the highest performance in specific traits, we can select for animals that, when used for breeding, put the most money in the farmer’s pocket.”

Holistic view of traits
Dr Kluyts explains specific traits are linked to and define breeding objectives.
“Breeders measure calves’ birth weight and use the data to calculate breeding values, expressed in kilograms below or above the breed average. Birth weight per se doesn’t affect profitability, and has no economic value, but it’s a very good indicator of calving ease, which does. If we want to improve calving ease to improve profitability, we use birth weight as an indicator.”
An animal’s economically important heritable traits are each assigned an economic value in relation to the breed average. The selection index is expressed as the nett profit of the animal mated within the breed.
For example, if a bull with an index of +R50 is compared to one with an index of +R30, the difference in the nett profit of the progeny can be calculated. The difference between the two indices (in this case R20) must be divided by two as the bull only supplies half of the progeny’s genes. The farmer can thus expect R10 more clean profit per calf using the bull with the higher index.
However, not all genetic criteria are identical in expression and heritability. There are also correlations between them, implying that selecting for one will also affect others.

Three-step programme
Dr Kluyts’s approach consists of three basic steps:
Defining the breeding objective. This includes mathematically deriving economic values and selecting the traits to be improved. These should be the ones with the highest economic value and the most influence on profitability.
Developing the selection index. This includes choosing the selection criteria included in the index and the relative weight of each criterion.
Developing a practical plan to employ the index to best use available genetic material.
According to Dr Kluyts, animal breeding is part of strategic production planning, which aims to change the genetic merit of animals in future generations. “They can then produce desired products economically and efficiently under future economic, natural and social circumstances,” he explains.

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The broader context
Profitability also has to be seen against specific environmental constraints, the production system, and the requirements of the market the beef is produced for. For example, an animal that’s optimal on high-producing planted pasture, with weaners finished off in a feedlot, may have a very different genotype to one run in the Kalahari, with long weaners marketed directly off the veld. Likewise, selection and breeding values differ if the market prefers lots of marbling to lean beef. Breeders should know and accurately define their production and marketing systems, and gauge their animals’ average level of performance in different traits against production constraints and customer requirements. They can then breed the most profitable type of animal in line with their breeding goals, and improve their herd’s genetics towards this goal.
Currently these profit-based breeding values are only available for the Simmentaler breed, but Dr Michael Bradfield of AgriBSA, the authorised representative of BreedPlan in Southern Africa, has said they’ll be extended to other breeds in due course.     |fw

The BreedObject system explained
Producers can also customise their own objectives and indices using the BreedObject system developed by BreedPlan (
BreedObject is customisable to any commercial herd market production system. It starts with a trait-level analysis of what affects profit. BreedObject then determines how much emphasis should be placed on different EBVs to address the target. The different emphases are reflected in the index value calculated for each animal.

How the farmer will Benefit
Breeders measure all important traits.
Breeders and farmers concentrate on the best traits to be improved on and value them correctly.
They use a combination of breeding values to ensure the best possible genetic and economic progress.
Breeders can relate breeding values to profitability and use them much more efficiently.
The system improves management and record-keeping.
The system makes it easier for breeders to buy animals because they now look at a figure or a single profit breeding value.
The system satisfies clients’ different needs and ultimately improves beef sales.