Wednesday, January 07, 2015

More cattle ranchers turning to DNA testing to identify prize animals

Cattle ranchers are using technology to test the genetic value of livestock, allowing breeders to "identify prize animals whose offspring will yield a larger volume of tastier steaks," leading to higher sale prices to beef processors, Jacob Bunge and Kesley Gee report for The Wall Street Journal.

Cattle breeders say having animals' DNA scanned by a gene-testing firm—which costs up to $100 per animal and includes sending a blood sample to the lab—allows them "to assess a bull’s genetic value with the same accuracy as if it already had sired up to 20 calves," Bunge and Gee write. "Testing also can save money on animal upkeep by culling cattle with less-desirable genes."

About 20 percent of purebred animals registered by the American Angus Association in 2014 were genetically tested, up from 1 percent in 2010, Bunge and Gee write. "Two-thirds of commercial cattle ranchers in the U.S. say their cow herds include animals with Angus genes, according to the association."
"Soaring cattle prices are helping fuel investment in beef genetics," Bunge and Gee write. "The nation’s cattle herd has dwindled to its smallest size in 60 years after years of drought in the southern Great Plains parched pastures and drove up feed costs. Tight supplies of steers and heifers have meant record prices for young beef cattle in the U.S., and retail beef prices were projected to climb 11 percent to 12 percent in 2014, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates."

"Some ranchers, anticipating bigger payoffs, now aim to rebuild their herds with animals boasting better genes, said Luke Bowman, spokesman for Select Sires Inc., an Ohio company that provides dairy and beef-cattle semen to breeders," Bunge and gee write. "That is helping drive a surge in prices for high-quality breeding animals, Mr. Bowman said, with bulls fetching as much as $250,000 now, compared with about $50,000 four years ago." (Read more)

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