July 2014

Research and Development

Industry Collaborates to Help Increase Feed Efficiency through Genomics

Left photo (Front-Back): Drs. Leluo Guan and Carolyn

Right photo:
Front row
: Dr. Changxi Li, Dr. Tom Lynch-Staunton
Middle Row
Dr. John Basarab, Dr. Zhiquan Wang, Anna Szenthe,
Mary De Pauw, Dr. Colin Coros, Dr. Heather Bruce, Clinton
Back Row: Dr. Graham Plastow, Barry Irving, Dr. Paul Stothard,
Dr. John Crowley, Dr. Manuel Juárez, Dr. Susan Markus

Livestock genomics is an advanced field of science that analyzes the DNA of animals to help producers target preferable traits in their livestock.

In the beef industry, increased feed costs are a burden to the bottom lines of producers. As a result, researchers are exploring genomics as a means to select feed efficient cattle.

To advance the potential in genomics, the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) is partnering with Livestock Gentec and the University of Alberta on two projects on the relationship between genomics and residual feed intake (RFI). Scientists from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are also involved in the projects. Along with ALMA, Beef Cattle Research Council, Canadian Angus Association, Canadian Charolais Association and Beefbooster are also supporting these projects.

RFI, a measurement of feed efficiency, has become a focal point of livestock genomics because annual feed costs to producers account for 65% to 75% of their production costs. Between the beef cow-calf and feeder industries, that translates to about $3 billion each year. These costs contribute towards the cattle industry’s support for and anticipation of the results of these projects.

“It’s about ensuring the best quality herd without affecting other important production qualities,” says Dr. Graham Plastow, CEO of Livestock Gentec. “By targeting the biological determinants of feed efficiency, producers can select their cattle effectively and increase their profitability.”

Dr. Plastow leads a research team that is looking to create a program and tools that demonstrate how genomics and measures of efficient growth like RFI can increase cost effectiveness for cattle producers. The team has divided its test cattle into two herds (control and efficient), and will use genetic markers and other tools to keep improving the efficient herd and show the impact by direct comparison with the control. Over time, they will monitor all of the important traits in each herd. The cattle will then be finished in a feedlot and both groups will be compared to see the validity and effectiveness of the genomic tools.

Through this program, the team hopes to develop Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) for widespread beef industry use. Dr. Plastow believes that the demonstration of the effectiveness of the EPDs will help Livestock Gentec promote the economic benefits of genomic technology to producers.

Primary testing for this project is being conducted 150 km southeast of Edmonton at the University of Alberta ranch, which will be renamed the Roy Berg Kinsella Ranch during the Livestock Gentec’s Annual Conference and Field Day in August.

The project is also spurring further research on genomics. University of Alberta researcher, Dr. Leluo Guan, a recent winner of the Global Research Alliance Senior Scientist Award, is leading a team that is studying the possible effects that rumen microbes have on RFI in cattle. With recent studies suggesting a relationship between the two, Dr. Guan’s team is looking into whether there is a genetic component to microbial function that could also serve as a marker for selecting efficient animals. Dr. Guan hopes that by identifying efficient animals and the microbes they carry in their rumens, producers can develop strategies that improve feed management.

“If microbial function can have an impact on RFI, then producers are given another way to select their cattle effectively,” says Dr. Guan. “This allows their feeds costs to decrease, while maintaining maximum feed efficiency for each animal.”

Dr. Guan also sees another possible benefit in exploring the relationship between microbes in the rumen and RFI with genomics.

“Increased feed efficiency leads to less methane in the atmosphere; therefore selecting animals with lower RFI could lead to reduced production of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. That implies that increasing the use of genomics could lead to enhanced sustainability of the Canadian beef industry and provide a competitive advantage moving forward.”

ALMA President and CEO, Gordon Cove agrees. “It is great to see how far genomics has come and the work being done on these projects show that there is a lot of potential in this area. They are also a great example of using industry resources effectively by combining results from the same tests and animals to accomplish objectives in two projects. We look forward to seeing the long-term results and benefits.”

For more information on these projects, please contact Drs. Plastow and Guan directly.