FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE: Cattle breeding takes eyes, EPDs

Posted: Aug. 7, 2014 9:53 am Updated: Sep. 4, 2014 10:15 am

Selecting breeding animals on how they look, or by phenotype, worked for centuries, but not it's data and what's inside that counts.

Things changed in the 1970s with statistical models that predicted expected progeny differences, or EPDs. Then software was developed to combine many EPDs into a single economic index number.

Indexes help herd owners search a sire catalog to match a bull's traits needed to improve a farmer's cow herd profits.

"We must still look at bulls and cows," said Jared Decker, University of Missouri geneticist. "Phenotype still counts, as there's no EPD for feet and legs."

Genomics tell a lot about calving ease, weaning weight, carcass weight or carcass grade.

The eye of the stockman still plays a role in breeding, but on traits of economic value, there are genetic tools.

Plain EPDs will fade away as breeders learn more from the DNA of individual animals. A calf's genes at birth predict much of what that animal will do in a lifetime.

New tools provide genomic-enhanced EPDs. A GE-EPD cuts time spent waiting for EPDs from data collection.

EPDs are based on production records of offspring from a sire. Those require recording weights at various stages of life -- and not on just one offspring, but hundreds.

Genomic tests five years ago tested one gene on one trait. Those were misleading, but new tests are useful, Decker said. "One trait, such as weaning weight, may be influenced by tens of thousands of genes."

Shopping habits

Weight and health management were the main motivations for the majority of U.S. grocery shoppers to check ingredient labels on meat products, according to research from Kemin Industries.

The online survey, conducted by Harris Poll, asked 1,004 U.S. adults who claimed to serve as their household's primary grocery shopper about their meat purchasing habits.

The survey reported by Feedstuffs Foodlink found that 40 percent of respondents said they buy meat products at national grocery chains, while 31 percent shopped at big value chain stores like Costco and 25 percent frequently selected meat from independently-owned stores.

Specialty stores were the least popular with only 4 percent shopping for meat there, although those shoppers actually were more likely to read the labels before buying meat products.

When shopping at their favorite grocery store, 81 percent of meat shoppers typically turn to the refrigerated section and 46 percent to the deli/meat counter when selecting meat or meat products for their families.

The largest health-related reasons for consulting labels were diabetes/blood sugar, hypertension/heart disease and cholesterol.

Sodium, preservatives and nitrites/nitrates were the top three words consumers avoided when buying meat products. Nevertheless, 44 percent surveyed indicated that they do not avoid anything.

Since preservatives are essential to keep ready-to-eat meat and poultry products safe from foodborne pathogens, the survey asked participants about preferred preservatives.

Not surprisingly, 41 percent preferred no preservatives, and 33 percent said they had no preference, but when forced to make a selection, a single-ingredient preservative fared better than multi-ingredient preservative.

-- Compiled by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar