Breed Society Progress


Many beef cattle Breed Societies follow a sequential development. Initially new genes are imported via AI or as embryos with resulting animals marketed by entrepreneurs on the basis of their scarcity thus attracting high prices. For an emerging Breed Society there is often little incentive to accurately know the breeding value of animals since they can be successfully marketed in the absence of performance figures. With few exceptions, New Zealand beef cattle Breed Societies have progressed beyond this emerging phase.

Figure One shows a possible sequence of technology uptake for a New Zealand beef cattle Breed Society. The horizontal axis classifies Breed Societies from emerging through to mature in nature. The vertical axis shows the degree of technology sophistication ranging from importing new genes (low technology) through to use of advanced genetic technologies.

Figure One: A sequential increase in uptake of sophisticated technologies by Breed Societies.

Maturirty of Breed graph

It does not always follow that a mature breed uses only advanced technologies and emerging breeds use low technology options. Mature Breed Societies tend to have more performance recorded cattle, a stronger membership and can muster sufficient financial resources to invest more readily in higher technology More advanced technologies do not necessarily make a breed or Breed Society more successful, for example using advanced technologies such as genetic markers for meat taste or tenderness might be worthless if our beef markets do not demand improvement in these traits.

As a breed matures, less reliance is placed on importation of genes and more attention focused on within-breed improvement of cattle. Within-breed improvement relies on performance recording, that is, the on-farm recording of traits influencing farm profit such as female fertility, live weights calving ease, carcass and meat quality. Performance recording, when coupled with pedigree records form the basis for breed improvement. Pedigree and performance data are usually stored in a central computer database either maintained by the Breed Society or contracted to an outside bureau. One of the major benefits of performance recording is that it helps encourage objective assessment of cattle. Most beef cattle breeders maintain pedigree and performance records on their cattle. Such records are essential to undertake genetic evaluation.

Genetic evaluation is a form of higher level-processing that transforms performance and pedigree records into a series of EBVs. The aim of genetic evaluation is to provide an accurate estimate of the breeding value of an animal from the given performance and pedigree information. A class of statistical tools known as Best Linear Unbiased Prediction (BLUP) provide the best estimates available of an animals merit. The techniques to calculate EBVs differ little between service providers. Some genetic evaluations may however choose to report EBVs relative to a 1990 base rather than a 1998 base for example- essentially this means choosing a different zero year. North American genetic evaluations use a different accuracy scale to that adopted by Group Breedplan.

Value-added genetic evaluation encompasses a range of technologies which help make EBVs more readily interpretable or make their use applicable to wider audiences. Internet-based technologies such as the World Wide Web enable efficient customisable searches of Breed Society databases enabling sires to be selected from the national herd which meet strict criteria. The New Zealand Charolais Society has EBVs for all recorded yearling and two year old sires available via the Internet. Merging breeding objectives technology with EBVs enables potential bull-buyers to more accurately relate EBVs to farm profit. Further value can be added to EBVs by providing an across-breed or between-country comparison of merit of animals. Judicious choice of EBVs can add value to selection decisions, for example an EBV for probability of producing a live calf is more valuable than an EBV for birth weight.

Advanced technologies include the use of Marker Assisted Selection (identifying and selecting for markers associated with genes of economic importance), cloning and gene transfer (introducing new genes into a livestock species or breed). Although most of these technologies are at present in the research phase, their inevitable commercial application has the potential to change the way we identify genetically superior cattle and disseminate their genes through a livestock industry. However, even these technologies rely on appropriate use of less advanced technologies, for example identifying genetic markers for traits such as meat tenderness or parasite tolerance relies on performance recording made at the point of harvest or on-farm. In-turn, marker information may be incorporated into EBVs and consequently relies on the establishment of a genetic evaluation system.

A Breed Society can progress in its level of technology use. At each stage of its evolution, clear decisions need to me made as to whether a particular technology meets the goals of the Society and its individual members. Use of these technologies should not be seen isolation of other factors such as maintaining a strong financial position, encouraging breeder membership and developing youth and research policies.

Paul Charteris
Meat Board funded Research Officer
Institute of Veterinary and Animal Biomedical Sciences
Massey University