Beef genomics loses value without phenotypic data collection

Phenotypic data collection should include ultrasound scanning.

A cattle ultrasound
A cattle ultrasound

A recent trip to the American Angus Association National Convention in Indianapolis, IN was time well-spent. Several high-caliber speakers presented on a host of topics, ranging from management to marketing to genomics. The milestone hit in 2016 by Certified Angus Beef (CAB) in selling over one billion pound of product was a significant accomplishment. The convention obviously focused on Angus cattle and genetics but also covered many topics that are relevant among other breeds.

The world of genomic selection advancement is accelerating as new technology and product accuracy improves and becomes more affordable. One convention session that got my attention was hosted by Dr. Dan Moser and Dr. Stephen Miller from Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI). The message revolved around progress in genomics, new testing options and the need to continue to emphasize the collection of individual phenotypic data. Emphasis was put on weaning, yearling weight and, most importantly, ultrasound measurement for carcass data. The message was very clear: phenotypic data helps increase the accuracy of EPD’s over time. It also allows cattle to be included in the training population data set for individual traits. Because we lack carcass data on breeding animals, we must rely primarily on ultrasound data. Correlations of actual carcass data and ultrasound data are high at 0.70 to 0.80. So, ultrasound does not provide exactly the same information as measuring the carcass, but it is close. Certainly, ultrasound is one of our best tools in comparing cattle in contemporary groups for specific body composition traits. This is important because ultrasound measures (intramuscular fat, fat thickness, ribeye area) are among the most highly heritable traits for which we can select in our breeding programs.

Our overall beef industry progress can be attributed to many factors, and good data collection and the resulting management decisions are keys to hitting market targets. When you decide on specific genomic tools for your herd, also schedule your ultrasound technician for those bull and heifer yearling scans. For those interested in ultrasound scanning at your operations, contact Kevin Gould, Michigan State University Beef educator at 616-527-5357 or by email at

For more specifics on topics discussed above, look into the links provided below and start using the tools today to improve your cattle genetics and future value:

Visit AGI for current genomic testing options along with pricing

Ultrasound scanning breeder protocol

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