Providing world-class selection tools to Gelbvieh and Balancer® breeders and their commercial customers is a high priority of the American Gelbvieh Association. Reliable indexes backed by sound science help producers analyze economically relevant traits.
Just over one year ago, the American Gelbvieh Association Board of Directors targeted development of a maternal index as the number one priority in the AGA’s Impacting the Beef BusinessTM long-range strategic plan. This decision was indisputable given that from day one, the Gelbvieh breed has demonstrated its superior maternal characteristics both at research institutions like the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center and across the beef industry. Providing Gelbvieh and Balancer® breeders and their commercial customers with the best possible tool for maternal selection makes great sense.
Can’t we just continue using individual EPDs and mix and match traits to suite our needs? Certainly, but the power of indexes is that they include multiple traits, weighted by their economic importance. In other words, there is a lot of information and science behind an index that simplifies selection and provides greater assurance of making accurate, long-term selection decisions. Yes, producers could continue to estimate what traits to include in their own selection schemes and speculate on how much emphasis to place on each trait. However, today we have the science and know-how to do much better.
Indexes aren’t new. Early indexes were proposed by two renowned scientists, Drs. Hazel and Lush, nearly 70 years ago and have been used in the poultry and swine industries for the last 20 plus years. Different indexes can have different end-points such as carcass, feeder calf value, feed efficiency and maternal. Indexes may include anywhere from two to as many as a dozen traits and are usually expressed in dollars per head.
The Gelbvieh and Balancer maternal index
Soon after the Board’s decision, the AGA contracted with Dr. Michael MacNeil of Delta Genomics to develop a maternal index. Dr. MacNeil is a geneticist and biometrician with 30 plus years experience at the USDA Livestock and Range Research Station near Miles City, Montana.
The first step was to analyze the AGA database and create EPDs for key components of the index not already in existence. New research EPDs were developed for heifer pregnancy, 30-month pregnancy and mature size. These EPDs were combined with several others including direct and maternal calving ease, weaning weight, milk, stayability and average daily gain to create the prototype maternal index.
The next steps
Association staff is working with Dr. MacNeil and an industry oversight committee to predict the long-term impact of selection using the maternal index. It is anticipated that the new maternal index will make its official debut in the January 2014 AGA Sire Summary. Two additional indexes will also be reviewed by the AGA Industry Oversight and Breed Improvement committees for potential inclusion in the 2014 Sire Summary.
These new indexes, combined with the power of genomic-enhanced EPDs, will provide Gelbvieh and Balancer breeders with world-class selection tools. It’s another example of doing all we can to positively impact our commercial customers and the entire beef business.