Limousin bull©Tim Scrivener

A range of genomic breeding values (GEBVs) for carcass traits in Limousin cattle could help beef farmers add value to their stock and better meet supermarket requirements.

GEBVs will help beef farmers select cattle that have the genes to supply processors with the higher value cuts.

See also: Shift to beef genomics threatens dairy heifer numbers

According to the Meat Prices Index, the additional value of the cuts could equate to a difference of £100-£150 a calf between the best and poorest sires.

And with half of a calf’s genes coming from the sire this means sires with superior carcass genetics have the ability to produce calves worth £50-£75 a head more than the sires with poorer carcass genetics.

It is a move that is being heralded as a game-changer for the beef industry, says researcher Mike Coffey from Scotland’s Rural University (SRUC).

“Genomic selection will bring large and rapid benefits to beef breeders and processors in the same way it has for the dairy industry.

“It will enable the UK beef sector to remain internationally competitive and provide a platform for the future that will include other economically important traits such as feed intake and meat quality.”

The new carcass trait GEBVs will be based on visual image analysis (VIA) measurements supplied by selected ABP abattoirs as well as DNA from more than 2,000 related animals to produce the key.

The GEBVs will indicate genetic merit for carcass weight and a selection of new carcass cuts: fillet, loin, rump, topside, silverside and knuckle.

GEBVs, which will be available for commercial animals from spring 2016, will be used in exactly the same way as EBVs when breeding decisions are being made by commercial and pedigree breeders.

Iain Kerr, chief executive of the British Limousin Cattle Society, said: “Producers of Limousin-bred cattle now have even sharper tools available to them to select cattle that have the genes to supply an end market whose pricing structure is evolving to favour the animals that truly perform for the higher value cuts.”

What are GEBVs?

GEBVs are estimates of genetic merit using new and independent sources of information.

For Limousin cattle, VIA records on individual carcass cuts from selected ABP abattoirs and information from a vast pool of Limousin DNA combine to produce breeding values that indicate an individual animal’s strengths and weaknesses for each trait.  

On-farm recording will remain important, however, as GEBVs are not effective in isolation since they require ongoing recalibration.

Who carries out the genomic evaluation?

The evaluation is carried out by Egenes (a unit in Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the GEBVs are reported back to industry through the Limousin Society database, alongside all the traditional Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs).   

Why is VIA analysis important in the calculation of GEBVs?

The use of VIA technology in ABP’s abattoirs identifies significant differences in carcass value that are not always apparent under the Europ grading system.

Capture of this information and its use in the Limousin genetic evaluation will enable breeders to select animals with high genetic merit for traits that add value to their calves.

How can I get a GEBV for my animal?

All owners of Limousin cattle can obtain a GEBV shortly after a calf is born, thereby enhancing the opportunities for selection more quickly than with performance recording alone.

They are particularly valuable for traits that can only be measured later in life.

A significant difference between an EBV and a GEBV is that the former relies on the collection of performance records across groups of animals all managed in the same way.

To gain the latter – a GEBV – all that is required is the DNA sample and the identity of the animal. It offers commercial producers significant opportunity in assessing current and future sires and replacement heifers.

Are GEBVs better than EBVS?

For many traits that have low heritability or are particularly difficult or expensive to measure, GEBVs will offer higher levels of accuracy than conventional EBVs.

Because accuracies are enhanced much more quickly using GEBVs than collecting records on-farm (depending on the trait) there can be less cost involved in getting breeding value estimates to similar levels of accuracy.