A private Shorthorn breeder has urged his breed society, Shorthorn Beef, to ‘get off the fence’ and make a decision about whether to move to IGS Genetic Evaluation.
The breeder, who has asked to remain anonymous for this opinion piece, was responding to a Beef Central February 4 article “Shorthorns ponder move from Breedplan to IGS model”….
ON 22 November last year, members of Shorthorn Beef received the following announcement:
‘After two and a half years of investigating positives and negatives, going through business strategies and all scenarios involved, the Board has made its final landmark decision unanimously, on moving to the American IGS Evaluation System.’
I have not seen this announcement rescinded.
I therefore find the report in Beef Central of 4 February that quotes Shorthorn Beef’s Graham Winnell, when asked about the decision to move to IGS, as saying “We are a long way from the finish line” to be confusing and contradictory.
The board and the Shorthorn office need to come clean pretty quick about the decision. Breeders are making decisions about their future in a state of uncertainty.
As a Shorthorn breeder for over 25 years I can see a lot of merit in the decision to move to IGS.
For many years we have relied on importation of genetics from the US to bolster our gene pool and the information available to select US Shorthorns has been rather dismal.
The US Shorthorn genetic evaluation was rather rudimentary compared to Breedplan and many of the bulls imported did not measure up when evaluated in Australia. It is very pleasing to see that IGS now offers a very sophisticated genetic evaluation that I’m sure will make it much easier and more accurate for Australian breeders to import genetics.
A system that evaluates Shorthorns from US, Canada and Australia has a lot of appeal, as it directly compares animals from the three countries and means the exchange of genetics between countries can be made on a sound base. But beware, combining data from different databases is not simple. Data is collected under different rules and may not be directly comparable.
Days-to calving versus ‘stayability’
Of greatest concern is the handling of female fertility data. In Australia the trait is ‘days-to-calving’ which research has shown is closely related to the lifetime reproductive performance of breeding females.
After learning of the decision to move to IGS I had some correspondence with the society and received some answers directly from a US scientist who promoted a trait they call ‘stayability’.
Basically it is the chance of a sire’s daughters still being in the herd at six years of age. While this trait will have high economic importance and will include some fertility information it cannot be directly compared to ‘days-to-calving’ and will not make genetic advancement of fertility nearly as effectively.
Stayability includes the whims of the breeder for example, as to whether or not he wants to increase the number of roans or whites. Days-to-calving records screen that sort of data out before analysis.
Fertility is one of, if not the, most important trait. We need to make sure we do the best we can.
The greatest advantage of moving to IGS could be the use of genomic evaluation as the US has a massive database on which to develop genomic predictions. But be warned: the accuracy of the genomic prediction relies on linkage between the population on which the prediction has been developed and the population being evaluated.
If Australian Shorthorns aren’t closely linked to the US population then the genomic predictions could be quite misleading.
The IGS team is also wooing the breed with promises of multi-breed evaluation. Forget it. Again, it depends on the animals that are in the database used for development, and it is unlikely Australian Shorthorns will be sufficiently represented in the near future.
Breedplan is still the best genetic evaluation in the world, but for a small breed like Shorthorn, it may not be the best system. For example, Shorthorns in Australia do not, and will not in the short-term have a database suitable for developing genomic predictions, without which Breedplan will not implement genetic evaluation that includes genomics.
There is a new project starting that could include Shorthorns, but that will still take some years to record sufficient numbers for a system to be developed.
In all I think Shorthorn Beef probably should move to IGS, but not without some negotiations on a few points:
- IGS should publish days-to-calving
- An Australian index should be developed – the current US index would not be valid for the Australian production environment
- Minor point but I for one will not publish EPDs/EBVs in pounds and inches – when will Americans wake up that the world has moved on. They were the first to have decimal currency but seem to have stalled.
Please can decision-makers at Shorthorn Beef make a decision soon.