Comment: HD50K genomics is exciting technology, but its no silver bullet

Harry Lawson, Lawson's Angus, 28/08/2018


HD50K has been promoted by Angus Australia and some seedstock breeders as the new you-beaut technology that will provide a giant step forward for Angus breeders to cut through the complexity of making breeding decisions and improve accuracy of Breedplan data.

Yes, the single-step process is fantastic and it’s good to see the incorporation of genomic 50K and phenotype data analysed together and producing new enhanced EBVs.

The biggest decision we make at Lawsons Angus each breeding season is which AI sires make the cut, and then how we put them to work in our mating plan.

So you would think that HD50K is going to change our world. We are being told that single-step HD50K genomics is the greatest advancement since the introduction of Breedplan and “is part of Angus Australia’s commitment to ensuring Angus breeders in Australia have access to world leading genetic improvement technologies.”

Of course we want to use technology that enhances the accuracy of our breeding decisions and that helps us identify elite young sires for further testing. However, contrary to the view that Angus Australia seems to hold, we are not convinced it is the silver bullet.

The HD50K test costs more than $50 per head and in our experience we don’t see the return on investment for us or our clients at this point.

“Most of these fantastic looking bulls with HD50K enhanced EBVs do not fit our criteria for calving ease, growth, mature cow weight and carcase traits”

Breeders may think just because a bull is 50K tested we should feel more comfortable that the information is now more reliable, so you can sit back and buy with confidence. In fact, in most cases the bulls that are the HD50k bright stars do not suit our program or our clients.

Most of these fantastic looking bulls with HD50K enhanced EBVs do not fit our criteria for calving ease, growth, mature cow weight and carcase traits. For example, most of the top 50 Heavy Grain sires have 50K DNA tests, but no one talks about the fact they average a massive +125 on Mature Cow Weight (see last week’s opinion piece).

It’s a similar scenario with the Angus Sire Benchmarking program. It’s a world leading progeny test and research project, but unfortunately most of the sires are not even close to being suitable for the majority of progressive Australian beef producers, or the feedlots or the meat processors.

Just ask Rangers Valley feedlot what they think of the steers coming through the program. The question we need to answer is where are the future animal breeders in Australia going to come from with this type of leadership?

Yes, they will be technically savvy, but we need to improve the training and applied knowledge of future animal breeding and make sure they also understand basic farm management and economics. Genetics are an important input for all parts of the supply chain, but unfortunately, little has changed in connecting the dots in a complex supply chain.

Within our own seedstock breeding operations at Lawsons Angus, we will continue to focus on the importance of the key the economic traits that improve profitability for our clients.

We are not dismissing the value of HD50K, however we believe it is one of many tools good breeders should be using to advance the breed.

HD50K genomic testing is being used as a smoke screen to divert from the real underlying issues that we should be focusing on, which is that the seedstock industry is lacking people with applied animal breeding skills and the knowledge to understand how genetics can be used to benefit all parts of the supply chain.

It’s important we remain objective and accountable to our commercial clients, but also continue to improve the productivity and genetic potential of Angus cattle from on-farm to the end product on the rail.

Like our cropping counterparts, we need to sort the oats from the chaff and continue to do our research to find new sires that are more productive, more drought-resistant and produce higher-value carcases on the rail.

The new HD50K is a new tool to help us, but genomics is far from a silver bullet when it comes to making long term breeding decisions.




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  1. Rodger Pryce, 20/09/2018

    We can all provide different slants on this and other aspects of what sires to select, using all available tools maybe provides a balanced outcome.
    Individual breeds should not try to change the breed too much away from the known attributes. History shows a plus change nearly always results in a minus somewhere else.
    Calving Ease Direct has a low 14% heritability for obvious reasons whereas Gestation Length is 65% heritable. I find lots of commercial producers have a fixation over CED, the desired outcome is at best, not that reliable, whereas selecting on GL has a better chance of producing the desired result – my opinion only.

  2. Jo-anne Southorn, 20/09/2018

    I disagree that Angus Australia have promoted the Genomics test as a silver bullet. It has been promoted to improve accuracies of EBV’S and breeders told not to stop measurement of their animals attributes. The $ indices are an excellent to help commercial breeders make bull buying decisions. They just need to identify the market they are aiming at and then check on important attributes for their environment eg high milk in a hard area or hard run operation can lead to dams losing condition and failing to go in calf.

    The other benefit of Genomics is that once DNA available the pedigree of the animal can be verified. This is critical to ensure EBV’s are meaningfull and carrier status for Genetic diseases.

  3. Peter Vincent, 29/08/2018

    The myriad of EBV’s available to vendors and buyers appear to be of significant worth to both. However, to ask commercial buyers to trawl through anywhere between 10 and 30 EBV’s in a catalogue of 100 bulls is absurd …. so the $Indices for individual markets have been developed. Not perfect, but not too bad. However I’m perplexed as to why so few breeders have created their own individual indices if they believe they understand the needs of their client-base. I agree with Harry Lawson when it comes to the buyer’s disregard of high mature cow weight when selecting sires but rather than denigrating individual animals in the top percentiles of an index, educate commercial clients and create indices to match their requirements.

  4. Matt Rogers, 28/08/2018

    I enjoyed the article, however believe that it was trying to draw a conclusion between high mature weight Bulls and HD50K. Is it being claimed that HD50K causes high mature weights? This is not right. Genomics simply allow for a higher accuracy EBV to be generated. It is still up to the breeder to select animals with the right EBVs for their business. Selecting bulls with genomics allows the breeder to make a selection with more confidence.

    If you are looking at bulls with high performance for the Heavy Grain Index undoubtedly there will be a large number with high mature weights. Maternal EBVs (Mature Weight and Milk) only make up 5% of the Heavy Grain Index and selecting a Bull in the top 10% for this index will add +4kg to progeny for mature weight. These are all well known aspects of EBV’s and the Heavy Grain index. I cant see how getting a Genomic test done affects this outcome. If you want lower mature weight females, then don’t use the heavy grain index as a guide post. Whether the animal has a HD50k test done is irrelevant in that argument.

    Ag has suffered an exodus of talent with many people, sons and daughters leaving agriculture as a profession. This has turned around in the last few years with tertiary courses full of aspiring people who want to enter agriculture. I believe it will be one of the best things to happen in a long time, and whilst this may be viewed as a diminishing pool of applied breeding skills, we need to focus on how we harness this new talent, ideas and perspectives in the best way. Ag will be changing for the better as a result.

  5. Mike Introvigne, 28/08/2018

    While Harry dismisses the value of HD50K he obviously takes note that most of the flash sires with HD50K enhanced EBV’s do not fit his criteria, so it does provide Harry with valuable info when selecting the sires he wishes to use, or not to use. Not every Angus stud utilises the same breeding criteria as Harry so they too will find the HD50K enhanced EBV’s valuable whether it be to eliminate or select specific sires for their programs.
    At Bonnydale Black Simmentals we utilise the American Simmental Association’s Genomic enhanced EPD’s. While not a silver bullet it does improve the accuracy and reliability of a specific animal’s performance data but this alone does not determine our breeding selections. I do agree with Harry that animal breeding skills and management expertise is paramount to delivering effective genetics to the commercial cattle industry and these skills are becoming more difficult to find.
    But Harry needs to remember that while he believes his breeding philosophies are the only ones worth following, many seedstock breeders would disagree. Not that all Harry espouses is disagreeable but the industry at large will determine the future and only then will we see who was on the right track.

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