Igenity - Just What This Commercial Producer Has Been Waiting For
Wayne Cockrell, manager, Carter Ranch, Oakwood, Texas, says Igenity helps him manage the ranch's 1,500-head cow herd in a way that until now has been next to impossible.
"We raise our own replacement heifers and we have always been able to evaluate those heifers phenotypically, but that is it. We really didn't know what we had in our cow herd," Cockrell says. "Based on carcass data from our calf crop, I knew that we had a product that was about 60 percent choice. But, we had no way of knowing where the other 40 percent of the animals came from."
Cockrell markets the ranch's calves on a value-based system that pays a premium based on how the calves perform in the feedyard and on the grid. In an effort to improve the calves' chances of excelling, he invests in high-quality Angus bulls. However, it hasn't been enough to get the herd to where Cockrell wants them to be.
"By using higher-quality bulls, we moved our calves from 40 percent to 60 percent choice, but then we leveled off," he says. "I knew that we weren't going to make anymore progress until we were able to do so with our cow herd."
This is why he has incorporated the comprehensive Igenity profile into his heifer selection process - which Cockrell says is just what he has been waiting for.
"Since the profile includes so many traits, I can look at each individual in two different ways, on the reproductive side or the feedyard side," he says. "Now, I can go through our herd and not necessarily select the super cows, but instead, identify the bottom 20 percent to cull. And, because the Igenity profile is comprehensive, I can market the heifers differently that won't work as replacements. We can look at these heifers and tell that they aren't going to make good cows, but they can make us some money in the feedyard."
Cockrell says the investment in profiling his heifer crop is one he can't afford to skip.
"If I can select females that will result in even a 5 percent increase in conception rates, I am ahead based on the improvement in fertility alone," he explains. "Then, when you look long term at traits such as feed efficiency and all of the carcass traits, the investment more than pays for itself over the productive life of the cow."
Though Cockrell is optimistic about what Igenity can do for him on the female side, he is most impressed about how it can help him manage his herd sires.
"This technology really excites me when I see what it can do for me in terms of selecting and managing my bull battery," he says. "I know that some of our bulls perform better than others, but we run multiple sires per pasture, so I have now way of knowing which ones are which after they are turned out. With Igenity, I can identify the superior sires in my battery, which will help me in two ways. First, I can go back to the breeders of the better bulls and select more like them. And second, I can use the Igenity profiles on the bulls and put them alongside the profiles on my females and make some better breeding decisions."
In addition to the inside information from the Igenity profile, Cockrell has been impressed with the entire system available from Igenity.
"At first, I was apprehensive about collecting the DNA samples and the additional work it would add to our processing routines. However, the tissue collection device was very easy to use, and didn't slow us down at all," he says. "I also appreciate that the Igenity software is cowboy simple and gives me a way to manage and apply all of this information with a program that I can understand."
Cockrell says the Igenity profile is a tool that helps him get ahead of the times and evaluate his cattle in a way that will help the ranch stay profitable.
"We know that there will soon be either discounts or premiums for tender cattle and we have to be prepared to provide cattle to meet that demand," he says. "We also know that with all of the recent increases in inputs, we can't afford not to eliminate the bottom end of our herd, and Igenity gives us a way to do that."
King Ranch Fine-Tunes Genetics with Igenity
The name is legend. The herd is huge. But when it comes down to it, King Ranch is just like other cattle operations trying to be profitable in economically challenging times. One herd management resource they've recently looked to with an eye on profit is the comprehensive Igenity profile.
Primarily a cow/calf operation, the 155-year-old King Ranch supports a herd of 22,000 to 23,000 Santa Cruz commercial cow/calf pairs, plus 1,000 registered Santa Gertrudis cows — a breed developed on the ranch. Santa Cruz cattle are a composite of 50 percent Santa Gertrudis plus red Angus and Gelbvieh. King Ranch first started using DNA profiling as a way to identify sires in multisire pasture situations.
"Our pastures are so big we just can't maintain small breeding groups. DNA technology allowed us to work with what we have and still generate good data on our herd," says Scott Moore, area manager for the ranch in Kingsville, Texas. "Eventually we evolved as DNA profiles grew to use the technology to select for marbling and tenderness. It is a great way to account for more variability in the performance of the animal."
The purebred Santa Gertrudis herd is where King Ranch focuses most of their attention for genetic improvement. They keep extensive records and feed out all animals that don't make the cut for breeding stock for progeny testing. Now, they also get Igenity profiles on all Santa Gertrudis calves.
"We're not like most seedstock operators, in that our primary source of income is not the sale of purebred cattle. Instead, our purebred herd is used primarily for the improvement of our commercial herd," Moore explains. "We're using Igenity to improve genotypic performance and build the value of our commercial calves. We will eventually use the information to market our calves, too."
King Ranch uses the Igenity profile and other data to create a calf value index, an overall rating that helps them to better select breeding stock that are moving their herd in the right direction. King Ranch has wrapped EPDs, genotypic information, phenotypic information and economic value into a formula for determining a calf value index. The economic value is created by applying more importance to varying traits based on the local environment and the importance of those traits to the success of the ranch.
"In South Texas, weaning weight largely depends on how much rain we get that year, so we place heavier importance on carcass traits simply because it's less erratic in our area and we can get more economic value out of building cattle that will feed well or grade well," Moore says. "It's been an evolution. We went from pedigree and physical appearance to ratios. We then progressed to utilizing these same ratios in combination with independent culling criteria for the number of alleles of specific genes. Now we have our own within-herd EPD system that takes into account the molecular breeding values for the entire genomic profile, which express this as an index calculated from economically relevant traits specific to our operation. We've married genotypic and phenotypic into one number."
Here's how they use the Igenity profile for selection at King Ranch:
At King Ranch, heavier weight in selection is given to marbling, tenderness and, more recently, feed efficiency. Marbling and tenderness data is especially important to them as Moore notes that American breeds have a bad rap for both traits.
"Santa Gertrudis is as tender as any breed, and there are many sires identified that will marble with the best. The Igenity profile information can help us get that information out there while continuing to enhance both of these traits," Moore says. "Nobody really pays for tenderness right now, but it takes two to three generations of selection to enhance a trait. If we wait until they pay for tenderness, we'll be 14 years behind. We want to be ready."
Feed efficiency is a trait for which Moore already sees value.
"Feed efficiency is important for all levels of production. You pay for it every day you run cattle because every animal is eating feed," Moore says. "We want to select animals that eat the same or less feed and gain more per day."
He also notes that feed efficiency is important in the pasture, too.
"Through DNA profiling we are taking into account more aspects that contribute to the variation in animal performance," Moore says. "We're getting a truer picture of the potential each animal has to perform."
And King Ranch has found that nothing matches the genetic picture created by the comprehensive Igenity profile.
"The Igenity representatives also have been very cooperative in working with us to make the system work in our herd," Moore says. "They have great customer service and I know and trust the people."
Igenity Helps Commercial Producer Add Marketability to Heifers
Brad Turner of BT Cattle in Lipan, Texas, says the comprehensive Igenity profile helps him level the playing field when marketing his commercial replacement females.
"Before I started using Igenity, all I could really tell about my heifers were that they looked nice out in the pasture eating grass. Now, with the Igenity profile, I am no longer spending a bunch of money and spinning my wheels because I don't really know what I have in my herd's genetics," Turner says.
Turner runs almost 200 head of commercial cows and is primarily in the business of producing replacement females. Along with providing superior genetics, Turner is committed to utilizing programs that can help ensure the health of his cattle. That is why he also uses the MERIAL® SUREHEALTH® Calf Preconditioning Program. He says the combination of a strong health program and inside information from the comprehensive Igenity profile helped a group of his heifers bring an additional $250 each.
"We had a group of females in a commercial heifer sale, and the buyer told me after the sale that he bought those females because the information from Igenity helped him really know what he was buying instead of just guessing. Profiling those heifers was the best money I have ever spent," Turner explains.
Now, Turner is profiling his entire heifer crop. The Igenity profile helps him add marketability to his females in a way he has never been able to before. And it can help him make more confident mating decisions to help make faster genetic progress.
"I am using the profiles for each heifer to make some culling decisions and, more important, to make better mating decisions. If I know the strengths and weaknesses of each heifer, I can mate her to a bull with an Igenity profile that will help improve those areas to produce a better calf. I also can use the profile to help find the heifers at an early age that don't have the genetic potential to be a profitable female and sort her into the feeding pen," Turner says.
He adds that the Igenity profile is something all cattle producers should use to gain inside information early in each animal's life.
"The Igenity profile is an extraordinary tool that can help all producers — but especially commercial producers — take their program to a new level," Turner says. "The heifers I am raising have two purposes: to raise a calf efficiently and to produce a calf that will be worth eating. With Igenity, I can learn more about each heifer's potential to do both things from the beginning. I don't have to wait until her first calf is harvested to know what she can do. The Igenity profile is simply a tool that can help me do a better job of running my business."
Igenity helps put seedstock producer on the fast track
Doug Steele, Steele Land and Livestock, Anita, Iowa, believes the inside information from the Igenity profile is a great way for him to begin improving his herd's genetics more rapidly. Steele runs a 400-head registered Angus herd and sells about 150 bulls and a few females each year. He believes the Igenity profile can help him and his customers make genetic progress faster to produce a more consistent product.
"DNA technology gives me an unbiased look at the cattle's genetics," Steele says. "The data are black and white and can tell me about traits like stayability and docility that I cannot get with traditional selection tools."
This is why he gained inside information from the Igenity profile on his entire calf crop for the second year, and is providing it on cattle in his March production sale. Steele mainly uses Igenity to help him make more confident mating decisions, and to help his customers make better bull selection decisions.
"Before we can make genetic progress, we have to set a base line for our herd," he says. "Once we know what our herd's strengths and weaknesses are, we can begin to make genetic progress. We also can use the information from Igenity to help our customers improve their genetics."
Steele says his customers need to know where their genetics are before they can make progress. Then he helps them apply that information when they seek out a sire.
"We are working with some customers to gather data on their cattle so we can know which sire will best fit their operation," he says.
Steele says the Igenity profile is a powerful tool for both he and his customers. And, he advises producers looking to include the Igenity profile into their production sale start as early as possible.
"This year, we collected the samples much earlier than before so we can get the data back and get it in front of our customers," he says. To make it easier for customers, Steele will be posting the scores from Igenity on his Web site prior to his bull sale and providing the information in the sale catalog.
"The focus of our breeding program is to provide Angus cattle that have superior production traits in a useful and attractive package," Steele says. "By using the Igenity profile to help make better decisions in our mating program we can reach our goals faster and help our customers produce a superior end product at the same time."
Oklahoma Producer Uses Igenity to Help Produce a Consistent Product
Tim Haines, Lexington, Okla., runs almost 1,000 commercial Angus cows and retains ownership of his calves through the feedyard. Until recently, he had to rely on historical data to help evaluate the genetic potential of the females in his herd and predict how his feeder cattle would perform. Now, he is using the comprehensive Igenity profile to gain inside information about his cattle and take a proactive approach to his breeding program while working to produce a more consistent end product.
"We want to use every tool we have available to help fine-tune our genetics and add value and consistency to our cattle," Haines says. "We have an opportunity to design our product in a way that we haven't ever had before. Consistency is something we are looking for in our cattle and Igenity can help us do that."
Haines is using DNA technology in all aspects of his operation, starting with his bull purchases.
"We are committed to only purchasing bulls with DNA information," Haines says. "We also believe Igenity can help us know more about our replacement females. We have always known that we have some nice cows and great genetics. But without information about each individual's genetic makeup, we are pretty much guessing about what those females will do for us."
Haines says when selecting females he wants to stay away from the extremes and focus on visual confirmation, reproductive performance and carcass traits. Now the inside information from Igenity can help him make replacement heifer selection decisions with more confidence.
"We start with confirmation and eye appeal as well as reproductive efficiency, however, we need to know what those females have in them genetically to help us improve our bottom line," he says. "Now, with the help of the Igenity profile, we can help identify the females that will raise a thrifty calf efficiently, and give that calf a worthwhile carcass."
Carcass traits are key to this operation since ownership of calves is retained through the feeding phase.
"We sell the cattle we retain on a grid, so the more information we have, the more likely we will be to turn a profit on those calves," he says. "With the Igenity profile, we have the opportunity to market the cattle to the packer and in groups based on their strengths for each trait in the profile. We don't want to just be a commodity operation; we want to have a product that we can market to a packer who will pay incentives for a product they can brand."
He adds that the inside information from the feeder cattle is important when looking at the breeding program as well.
"It is not just about feeding each individual group of calves," Haines says. "This information will help us to get our entire herd headed in the right direction."
For this reason, Haines also utilizes the multisire parentage option available from Igenity.
"We start with artificial insemination on all the females on the ranch, but after that, it is essential for us to run multiple sires in each pasture," he says. "However, that makes it difficult to match calves up with their sire. By identifying parentage on the calves, we can make better decisions about our bulls and also better mating decisions after we know information about both bulls and females."
The operation also consists of a small seedstock herd, and Haines says Igenity can help him make better decisions about which individuals should be part of that elite group.
"It is important for us to be able to identify calves early on that meet or don't meet our particular criteria for scores from Igenity," Haines says. "This will allow us to point calves in several different directions: for the seedstock herd, as a replacement heifer or for retained ownership."
Haines says that as input costs rise, it is important to use all of the available tools to help make progress in his herd and help ensure the ranch's long-term profitability.
"As we have to start squeezing every nickel out of our operation, it is important for us to fine-tune our process," he says. "To make everything work in this business we are going to have to take advantage of every tool we can. Igenity is one of the tools we can use to help us design a product that has some enhanced value and helps us to stay profitable in the long-term."
Midland Bull Test Puts Igenity to Use on Test and in the Pasture
By using innovative technology, Midland Bull Test in Montana generates data to identify the most productive cattle for its customers' herds. The most recent addition to its technology toolbox is the comprehensive Igenity profile.
"There has been a lot of interest in Igenity from our customers," says Leo McDonnell, owner and founder of Midland Bull Test.
The Midland Bull Test includes approximately 1,200 bulls per year. McDonnell began incorporating the Igenity profile into the program last year by profiling his bulls for sale and giving consigners the option also.
"It's important for us to provide buyers with the most information possible about our bulls, and now that includes offering the Igenity profile," McDonnell says. "DNA technology is another way for us and our customers to get more information about our cattle for better management. It is especially valuable in young, unproven animals, and for improvement of traits like tenderness that are difficult to measure."
Along with providing the information from Igenity on bulls in the sale, Midland also worked with the research group for Igenity to help validate analyses related to feed efficiency in the Igenity profile.
"We are the largest bull test in the nation, which gives Igenity access to data on multiple breeds and herds from across the nation," McDonnell says. "Pairing our data with EPDs and DNA profiling just seemed like a good fit. Each tool can improve the accuracy of selection and the ability of producers to propagate the best genetics."
Steve Williams, McDonnell's stepson and manager of herd health and day-to-day operations at Midland, says they hope that Igenity will become a regular tool for helping them and their customers to select and breed for cattle with greater value.
"Our goal is to identify bulls that will add value to a commercial producers bottom line," Williams says. "Feed efficiency has become our focus because production costs are at an all-time high. One way to increase a producer's net income is to focus on improving efficiency."
McDonnell also is putting the power of DNA to work in his own herd. He runs a 660-head registered Angus herd and a 100-head South Devon herd, and he has used the Igenity profile on his herd sires and replacement heifers.
"We're really excited that the Igenity profile includes maternal traits, such as stayability," McDonnell says. "Our greatest concern is our females. We want females that will last in the herd, have good fertility and can efficiently convert grass into a sellable product. Igenity will help us identify heifers that can deliver those traits."
McDonnell plans on using the Igenity profile to identify and avoid sires and females that are shown to be less favorable for traits he would like to maintain or improve in his herd. He also will continue to work with Igenity and will offer the profile as an added service for bull test customers.
"The team with Igenity seems very disciplined and committed to putting out a product that has real value to ranchers," McDonnell says. "We've enjoyed working with them and look forward to the opportunities this technology will produce."
DNA Technology helps Power Genetics Make More Confident Decisions
Jason and J.D. Anderson of Power Genetics, Holbrook, Neb., manage cattle from conception to consumption. This genetic company is in the business of producing cattle that will perform efficiently and produce a high-quality end product.
The company works with cooperator herds across the country to raise Simmental Angus composite bulls. Each bull must meet several requirements before they can enter the Power Genetics bull test and marketing program, including having inside information from the comprehensive Igenity profile.
"We began using DNA technology from Igenity to identify homozygous black bulls. Our customers were requesting that information and paying a premium for it," J.D. says. "As more traits are added to the profile, we have been paying a lot of attention to the carcass information and comparing that with our ultrasound and actual carcass data."
Information about carcass traits is important to this operation because after the bulls are marketed through the Power Genetics system, calves sired by the bulls are bought back and fed out. Power Genetics then sells the cattle through multiple grids and branded programs.
"We have to produce calves that meet the specific requirements the packer wants, and information from Igenity helps us to do that," J.D. explains.
Along with the carcass information, J.D. says they are taking advantage of the options available from Igenity — testing cattle for persistent infections (PI) of the bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus and identifying parentage.
"It is important for us to know the BVD-PI status of the cattle. We see it as a huge advantage that we can get all of this information from one tissue sample," he explains. "Also, some of the multiplier herds use multiple-sire breeding programs. Igenity allows them to identify the parentage on the calves as another management tool."
The Power Genetics vision is to individually manage and market each feeder calf to its ideal end point, and J.D. believes DNA technology from Igenity will help them to do just that.
"We really like the aggressive approach Igenity has taken to adding more markers and information to the profile and the ability to get all of the information from one sample," he says. "We believe this is a tool that will allow us to sort and manage cattle based on carcass information and help us meet our goals."
Mitt French, manager, San Benito Cattle Company, San Benito, Calif., has found multiple uses for the Igenity profile in the management of the ranch's 4,000-head cow herd.
"We began using Igenity to identify parentage in our commercial cow herd. We run multiple sires in each pasture and our ranch is spread over some rough terrain, so it is difficult to identify calves at birth," French says. "Igenity allows us to match calves with their sires, track their performance and use that information to evaluate each sire individually."
Continuing to evaluate sires and using the comprehensive Igenity profile has allowed French to make important breeding decisions and improve his herd's genetics faster.
"By identifying parentage on calves and linking their performance back to the bulls, as well as learning the marker information from Igenity, we have identified some superior sires in our lineup. We have collected semen on those sires and use them more heavily," he says. "We also started an embryo transfer program. We use the Igenity profile to help make selection and mating decisions for this group of cows."
French says he has used information from the comprehensive Igenity profile alongside EPDs and performance data to select individuals and manage carcass traits in the herd. However, he says it is the DNA information that has played the largest role in sire selection and management.
"We use DNA marker information to investigate our own sires so we can make the proper mating decisions to manage certain carcass traits," French notes. "We want all the feeder cattle we sell to grade mid-Choice or better. However, we also have to maintain acceptable Yield Grades. By knowing more about each bull, we can be sure we are making progress in selecting for Quality Grade without sacrificing Yield Grade."
He says by using Igenity, San Benito Cattle Company can gain all the information needed in one efficient package. From parentage, to information on carcass composition traits, to BVD-PI testing, French can get plenty of information to help make effective management and selection decisions.
"Along with parentage and bull selection, we plan to begin using the Igenity information to select replacement heifers and possibly manage and market feeder cattle," French explains. "We collect DNA samples on the calves at weaning. Using the Igenity tissue tagging system for sample collection has helped reduce human error, ensuring that we get more good samples, and allows us to learn BVD-PI status."
Seedstock Plus is a cooperative of 65 independent breeders from 16 states that sells about 1,200 Angus, Red Angus, Gelbvieh and Balancer bulls each year. John Burbank, CEO, says by using the Igenity profile, Seedstock Plus is able to provide its customers with valuable information needed to make important purchasing decisions.
The group is profiling all bulls in the Seedstock Plus system and will publish the scores from Igenity this year as part of their marketing program.
We have a large number of producers who purchase bulls sight unseen. Igenity allows us to provide more information to all our customers, but it is especially important for those who never actually see the bulls," Burbank explains. "DNA technology helps us represent those bulls' genetics accurately, helping the buyer to make the best decision."
He says the Igenity profile also is helping cooperative members make improvements in their own herds, allowing them to select for certain traits and raise better seedstock in fewer generations.
Burbank adds that the Igenity tagging device provides additional benefits. It easily collects a tissue sample that allows Seedstock Plus breeders to learn BVD-PI status on their bulls along with DNA profile results.
"Our breeders like the ease of the tagging system and it is a bonus to be able to get BVD-PI status," Burbank says. "We appreciate that Igenity provides all of the genetic information we want in a single profile, instead of having to get DNA tests for each individual trait or take separate samples for BVD-PI testing."
Sergio Rutowitsch of Brahman PILAR ranch in Marica, Brazil, is in the business of producing bulls and selling semen to commercial producers in Brazil and around the world. After being one of the four pioneer breeders to bring Brahman cattle to Brazil and selling more than 500,000 straws of Brahman semen, he continues to find new ways to produce a superior product — both for his customers and beef consumers.
"Since 2004, we have been following the studies involving carcass quality improvement and the surge of molecular markers," Rutowitsch says. "In spite of our experience in producing desirable sires, it became very clear to us that a much deeper dive into the world of DNA markers would be necessary to understand the genetic jewels that science was uncovering for the beef industry."
Rutowitsch believes producers are doing themselves a disfavor if they are not taking advantage of all available technology.
"You cannot improve something you cannot measure," he says. "EPD's have been an extraordinary help in accomplishing our mating for objectives, but DNA marker technology extends such possibilities to new horizons of quality, we could not even dream of, until they appeared."
Rutowtisch adds that the impact of the molecular markers is so substantial in presenting the operation's products to their clients that it forced them to change our slogan from "Quality and Technology in Brahman" to "Brahman PILAR: Meat Quality in Animal Quality."
For these reasons, Rutowitsch together with a partner, Brahman KILOMBO, developed Project PPK, — a project to determine the effectiveness of DNA technology and its application. He said the first, and perhaps most important, step was choosing a DNA technology provider.
"Merial satisfies two key criteria we were looking for in a DNA technology provider with the Igenity profile," he says. "First, the partner we chose had to be a reliable international giant — a company with a history of success in handling innovative science, the financial muscle to compete and the global leadership to succeed in this category. Second, our partner had to speak science in a language that is understandable by common people like us and our clients. We decided that Merial should become our partner, and each week our satisfaction grows."
Rutowitsch says the success of using of the Igenity profile has become apparent in several ways, starting with improvement in scores after a strategic mating program.
"In the first 600 head we tested, only 17 head, or 3 percent, had a score of 6 or better for tenderness. In spite of the limited amount of females with the desirable score of tenderness, after some guided matings, in January 2008 we had 30 calves born from an embryo transfer program. Of those calves nine, or 33 percent, had a tenderness score of 6 or better."
Rutowitsch says their use of the Igenity profile has gotten the attention of customers and helped add marketability to cattle at a recent sale.
"At a recent embryo auction, the information from Igenity was given on all sires and dams. Three traditional Brazilian breeders made a point of purchasing animals in the sale and said they are committed to this new quality reference," he explains. "The following night, two more females were sold, and it was clear that the Igenity profile had a positive influence on their sale value."
He adds that DNA technology is catching on in the industry. For example, a top breeder of Uberaba (traditional Brazilian zebu area) shared with him that his most important bull buyer said that from now on, he wants access to DNA scores for all bulls prior to actually seeing them to select and buy.
"Our sire selection approach is now totally committed to involving marker-assisted selection and marketing with the Igenity profile. We have set filters of excellence using the scores from Igenity. We can focus our sire production on specific markets like cattle producers for feedyards, where feed efficiency is a must, but a filter for minimum score of tenderness as the best investment for the future.," Rutowitsch says. "The decision to perform a specific mating is the genesis of genetic enhancement and determines the future of the operation. The Igenity profile gives us the ability to see things that were previously invisible."