Beef Expo: Genomics key to increasing profit a head

Genomics offers a valuable and practical tool for maximising profit a head, according to beef farmer Paul Westaway.

Speaking at a Pfizer Animal Genetics press briefing at the Beef Expo, Hexham, Mr Westaway said genomics was the biggest step forward for the beef industry since Artificial Insemination.

Genomics is a means of estimating the genetic merit of an animal by assessing its own genetic make-up and gives the potential to increase the accuracy of selection at a younger age, before a bull is proven.

“Genomics may be the phrase of the moment, but what I’m concerned with is how much money I can make using it and how we can use it to drive industry profitability,” said Mr Westaway.

And Pfizer’s 50,000 chip marker for Aberdeen Angus allows just that. “The marker allows generation of a profit per carcass figure (MVP), allowing an actual financial figure to be placed on genetic potential,” Mr Westaway explained.

“The overall MVP takes into account weaning weight, daily liveweight gain, carcass weight, rib eye area, marbling and tenderness to produce a financial figure.”

The 50,000 chip marker also includes information on calving ease, growth rates, feed conversion efficiency, maternal traits, carcass traits and beef quality.

And using this genetic technology has already allowed Mr Westaway to increase profits at Gamage Farm, Gloucester.

“My aim is to produce consistent, high quality beef and, although feeding is significant, the influence genetics has in achieving this goal is huge.”

And using the genomic chip has enabled him to establish genetic merit of home-bred bulls, both young and old.

“Genomics has allowed us to identify that our bull Melview Goliath is in the top 15% in the world for tenderness and fat with an MVP of +£77.”

This means his offspring will be worth an extra £77 a carcass, the equivalent of 29p a kilo.

“It is unlikely beef price will increase by this figure, so by using genomics to select bulls you can add significant profit a head,” he said.

And the nature of genomics has allowed early assessment of bull genetic potential. “We are now analysing all bull calves coming through – at four months old we already know the genetic potential of one of our bull calves, Melview BASN Gareth.

“He is in the top 1% for rib eye, 2% for marbling and 2% for carcass weight and has an MVP of £133 – he is the future.”

At present, the 50,000 chip is only available for Aberdeen Angus, with other breeds becoming available in the next few months.

“Genomics must become part of the traditional EBV,” Mr Westaway stressed. “The key for me is sustainable agriculture, but it must be profitable.

“In the current climate, generating profit a head is more important than pence a kilo.” And genomics can play a significant role in achieving this goal.

And genomics is just as applicable to commercial producers, says Pfizer’s Heather Bessoff White.

“Information can be used by commercial producers to make management and health decisions.

“For example, those animals identified as having good marbling and tenderness qualities can be grouped and fed differently to those with greater feed conversion efficiency and lower marbling and tenderness.”

And by 2011, health markers will also be included in the genomic chip. “This will allow producers not only to select for animals that are more resilient to specific disease, but also animals that will respond better to specific vaccines.”