Doug was interviewed by a college student to learn the ins and outs of a beef producer’s operation. The questions ranged from what we feed our cattle in the winter to when we calve and everything in between. Getting a snapshot of a working ranch is a daunting task. There is so much we do to care for our animals, and when we are the caregivers, the things we do become old hat to us even though they can come as a surprise to others.
One aspect of our ranch to catch the curiosity of others over and over again is that we DNA test our calves every year. Because we sell registered Simmental cattle, we are called Simmental breeders. Along with this title comes the responsibility to market animals as they are. For example, we cannot sell an animal and say it is polled – to not have horns or carry the horn gene – if we do not know for a fact that to be true.
When Doug dived into the specifics of genomics and why we do what we do, the student’s response was, “Wow. So, that’s a lot of work, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is. To DNA test, we collect a miniscule tissue sample from the ear. The process is so quick and slight that a calf may think a fly just landed on its ear. The sample is collected in a tiny vial which is then sent to the lab for analysis. Besides the actual samples, hours are spent compiling a mound of paperwork and digital records to accompany the samples to ensure accuracy. Then, hours are spent analyzing and organizing the results.
Each animal is tested for polled or horned; coat color; carcass traits such as marbling or ribeye area; growth traits such as weaning and yearling weights; and many more. We also verify each calf’s parentage, meaning we use the DNA results to verify each calf’s sire and dam – the bull and cow. This guarantees we are marketing an animal with an accurate pedigree. The genotyping process also increases the accuracy of each calf’s expected progeny difference, commonly referred to as an EPD. A consumer in the grocery store will never see this abbreviation, but for cattle producers buying and selling cattle, EPDs allow for selection of animals to meet their needs.
The next time you are curious about what farmers and ranchers do and why they do it, just ask. The answer may surprise you.