Declare sire on calf passports to boost breed improvement

Beef farmers are being urged to list the sire on their calf passports, as this data could enable breeding directly for carcass traits such as conformation and lifetime growth rate.

New data from a feasibility study by SRUC reveals that only about one in four prime cattle slaughtered have the sire listed on the BCMS passport.

In some cases it is difficult to be sure of an animal’s sire and indicating the sire on the passport is optional, explains Kim Matthews, head of research and development at Eblex.

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“But often it is simply that farmers do not see the value of recording this information.”

However, he believes recording more sires on passports would enhance a valuable resource that can be used ultimately for breed improvement and research.

A good example of the value of sire information is the AHDB (Eblex and DairyCo) and HCC Meat Promotion Wales funded project, which is looking at using abattoir-generated data and BCMS records for carcass trait evaluation.

The project team at SRUC has already demonstrated that abattoir data, when combined with other national databases, is suitable for producing national beef genetic evaluations, he says.

This project is focused on producing genetic parameters and genetic evaluations for carcass weight, conformation and fat class for those breeds with sufficient data available.

“However, some breeds do not have sufficient data to be included because the sire has not been recorded for enough animals on their passports.”

For all breeds, any resulting estimated breeding values (EBVs) produced from abattoir data will be more robust where more animals are included in the analysis and this needs a higher proportion of records with sire details available.

Use of BCMS records to link animals to their sires provides huge potential for the cattle industry to capture value from passport data, including the possibility of breeding directly for carcass traits such as conformation and lifetime growth rate.

The next phase of the research project is to gather more data from a wider range of abattoirs and make the data retrieval process automatic for each abattoir. Then the data can be easily used to produce genetic evaluations for carcass traits.

The specific objectives are:

  • Estimate genetic parameters, develop models and estimate breeding values for carcass traits (fat, weight and conformation)
  • Calculate correlations between these new EBVs and other important traits, and then calculate index weights to allow the new EBVs to be incorporated into existing overall indexes.

The data will be used to estimate genetic parameters such as heritability for individual carcass traits and genetic and phenotypic correlations between carcass traits of interest.

Appropriate genetic and statistical models will be investigated to improve the accuracy of the EBVs by combining carcass trait data with currently recorded live animal performance data. An example is using conformation data on dairy animals that may be associated with carcass traits.

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