17 November 1995

SAY YUP TO BLUP BUT STILL USE YOUR EYES…

At Smithfield FarmTech sire reference schemes are displaying rams which can secure commercial producers faster growing, leaner lambs. Beef groups are also demonstrating genetically superior stock. Rebecca Austin reports.

BLUP is one of the many acronyms which does not sit easily in the minds of livestock farmers.

But a few quiet moments staring at the words "best linear unbiased prediction" will solve the puzzle. The technical jargon is then understood more easily and its potential perhaps more obvious to those who spend more time in the cattle shed than the office.

BLUP analysis is a tool which, when used correctly, guarantees an improved bottom line. It introduces a pattern of selection criteria into a breeding programme which has relied on visual assessment for aeons.

But BLUP advocates are at pains to point out that the latter skill should never be abandoned. BLUP is only one of the tools which can be used and the stockman must never forget to use his "eye".

Production goals

FarmTech heralds the arrival of four beef breeder groups to Earls Court. They all use BLUP to accelerate progress to production goals with more than a degree of success (see graphs). These are ASDIG (the Accelerated South Devon Improvement Group), the Yorks-based White Rose Limousin Group, The GLB Charolais Improvement Group and Willie McLaren with one of his Netherton Aberdeen-Angus cows.

The foundations of the BLUP system are laid down within Signets Beefbreeder service. As can be seen in the table this is where all performance data is collected. Individual estimated breeding values (EBVs) for the selected traits are then calculated using BLUP analysis. This enables animals to be compared directly across the whole breed.

Meat and Livestock Commis-sion geneticists also calculate a beef value. This is a guide to the overall economic value of the animal in terms of its ability to produce a high yield of saleable meat efficiently.

But the EBVs used in this composite index, those for birth weight, 200-day growth, 400-day growth, muscle score and backfat measurement, are given a weighting. This weighting is varied to suit different breed objectives.

For those producers who are new to BLUP there are two more points to note. The first is that the individual EBVs and beef value are only worth following when accuracies, expressed as a percentage, are high. And to achieve this, more and more producers must record their stocks performance, say the experts. For example, a bulls worth is more credible when 100 daughters provide performance data, rather than just 10.

"Our EBVs are now starting to show a significant difference in accuracy compared with farms not involved in our group," says Peter Lang of the White Rose Limousin group. "The whole point about EBVs is that they are only significantly useful as a management tool if you can get the accuracy. The more people there are who record nationally, then obviously the more accurate all the figures will be."

Scanning

Currently, accuracies for birth weight, muscling and backfat are lower than those for 200- and 400-day weights. This is because it is often impractical and inconvenient to weigh calves at birth. Also, ultrasonic scanning has only been available for 18 months and is not a compulsory part of the Beefbreeder service.

Potential buyers should also look at the individual EBVs and not just the beef value. For example, a bull may have a very high beef value, but his EBV for birth weight could also be high. To a farmer calving suckler cows on the hill, or a dairy producer looking for a beef bull for his heifers choosing this bull could prove a disaster.

"BLUP is the only system we have of evaluating cattle on breeding traits and it is a very good tool to use," says Charles Phillips, a member of ASDIG. "But recording is the key to BLUPs success and its adoption by producers."


Beefbreeder scheme

Basic annual feePrice Signet staff visitsService provided

(£) No Timing

Up to five cows1351on requestAuthenticated weighing,

per cow thereafter2.10muscle scoring animals

Maximum387aged 350-500 days, resultsinterpretation and advice.

Service includes bureau

data processing and full

breeding reports for any

number of farm weighings.

National database is used

to calculate EBVs three

times each year for the major breeds with results distributed to Beefbreeder clients. Data available on diskette.

Additional services:

per animal1-1011-20+20on request

Scanning52.51.3age 350 to Data used in EBV500 daysanalysis.Linear assessment52.51.3on requestData collected for

breeds

Weighing0.50.50.5Ideally 100-dayintervals. Data

used in EBV anal

Maximum visit fee£83

Aberdeen Angus cow Netherton Frances 02 will be at FarmTech. She has a beef value of AA58 and has won six supreme championships this year.

Top Charolais bull, Givendale Josh, from the Yorks-based GLB Charolais Improvement Group, boasts a beef value of CH56. He will be at FarmTech.