The Role of Genetics in BRD – Part 2

If the first part of our conversation about BRD and genetics gave you the impression that there is little known, don’t worry. What is known is impressive and what we’re poised to learn has the potential to substantially change the cattle industry for the better.

Today we have commercially available tests that exist for certain genetic defects. These give only a “yes” or “no” answer for a specific defect correlated to one or more specific chromosomes. That is not yet a complete assessment of the question, “How genetically susceptible is my animal to BRD?” but it’s more information than we had just 10 years ago.

Our scientific tools to explore genetics get better all the time and the research focus on BRD is sharper than ever. Right now, the United States Department of Agriculture is partnered with five major research universities and one private genetics company in a five-year project to do the most intensive research on genetics and BRD ever conducted. What they and other researchers find will mean genetically healthier animals and a much deeper understanding of how to evaluate and care for each one.

Understanding the disease is important, especially when about 1.4 percent of U.S. feedlot cattle (more than $640 million in value) are lost to BRD each year, according to the results of a recent University of California-Davis study. It also was concluded that reduced BRD incidence is seven times more valuable in a beef sire than wean weight, post-wean rate of gain or feed intake, and two to three times more valuable than marbling score or yield grade.

While the potential gain is tremendous, it’s important to remember there will never be a single breed for all occasions. Tough, disease-resistant breeds (Scottish Highlander), outstanding reproductive breeds (Longhorn) and highly efficient beef-producing breeds (Angus or Charolois) have existed for more than a century. We are limited, though not quite as limited as our ancestors, by the fact that what affects one trait often has a subtle negative effect on others.

All told, it is a very exciting time for the cattle business. What are you hoping grows out of our understanding of bovine genetics? Is a hardier animal important to you, or are beef and dairy grade still a main concern on your operation?

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