Tag Archives: Genetics

Gelbvieh cattle breeders Jerry and Karen Wilson have filed a lawsuit against Jonathan Beever, a University of Illinois professor and founder of Agrigenomics, a livestock genetic testing company. The registered breeders say they culled more than 70 animals based on genetic tests that found the animals positive for the genetic defect Contractural Arachnodactyly (CA).

According to the suit, the Wilsons were later told the CA test was not accurate. One of the animals the Wilsons culled was the most heavily used sire in the Gelbvieh breed at the time, Post Rock Granite 200P2.

CA is commonly known in the industry as “fawn calf syndrome.” It is a genetic condition caused by a mutation affecting Angus and Angus-influenced cattle. Carriers can be indistinguishable from those free from the condition without genetic testing.

Beever is well known in the industry for developing DNA tests based on the CA mutation back in 2010. The Wilsons, based at Ava, Illinois, said they relied on the CA test developed by Beever, and sold through a Nebraska-based genetics company, to cull the herd of carriers in October 2013.

Humble Law is now handling this case. It’s a work close to the heart of attorney Dustin Kittle. His family farm at Geraldine, Alabama, raises black and red Gelbvieh cattle, and is a long-time leader in the breed. Kittle said he hopes the suit can help the Wilsons rebuild a reputation damaged through inaccurate assertions that CA was a problem in their herd’s bloodlines. Damage to the Wilsons is estimated at $150,000, but that could change.

“We’re a registered Gelbvieh farm,” said Kittle. “This is a personal case for us. We got licensed in Illinois so we could handle this case. It affected our farm and the entire Gelbvieh breed. People like the Wilsons paid to have their animals tested, then they culled them. Then they were told the findings were false. That’s a hard pill to swallow.”

Beever, who spoke with DTN regarding the lawsuit, said in 2013 the American Gelbvieh Association, implemented guidelines for testing that included the CA mutation. He agrees the Wilsons had some animals with positive test results, one being that purebred Gelbvieh bull.

“I was asked to retest the animal (Wilson’s bull) to see if he was a carrier. I was sent a straw of semen on the bull, tested the bull and he came out a carrier. The question became why,” said Beever. “We did DNA sequencing on that bull and we learned the test we were using was recognizing a DNA sequence that matched the Angus sequence. There was no other explanation as to why that bull was a carrier other than that he was black, could have had Angus genetics in his pedigree and the DNA sequence matched the DNA sequence of Angus cattle.”

Beever adds he offered to test the Wilsons’ entire herd “at our cost,” because the bull had been used extensively in their bloodlines. He insists the Wilsons’ decision to sell the cattle when they did (2013 and 2014) was “an inappropriate management decision based on incomplete information. He didn’t wait till we understood what happened,” said Beever of Wilson’s decision.

“I believe he made a decision based on economic opportunity. At the time there was no justifiable reason to cull animals of high genetic merit that might have had a mutation, when we know it can be managed.”

Following this, Beever spoke before the American Gelbvieh Association in January 2014, and told them the test should be considered “unreliable” for Gelbvieh breeders. He noted that for Angus and Angus-composite cattle the test is valid.

Kittle said the Wilsons, having the No. 1 bull in the breed at the time, lost revenue on the bull, but also on the semen.

“This impacted them more than a lot of other breeders,” Kittle noted. “They sold a lot of semen for three years, and they have not sold any since. They destroyed a lot of it based on these results.”

Kittle added he believes there’s a measure of damages to be considered with regards to the stigma associated with a bull that is a CA carrier, and said this event has hurt the Wilsons’ reputation as breeders.

Beever, a professor with the Animal Sciences Laboratory at Urbana, Illinois, said the suggestion is “I knew all along the test wasn’t working properly in Gelbvieh, but decided to market it anyway for economic gain, and that this was more important to me than solving a problem in the beef industry. This is a charade.”

The researcher added for now he has terminated research into solving the CA problem for the Gelbvieh Association.

Genetic tests are available for everything from birthweight to carcass weight, so it’s tempting to select your next herd bull based on those results alone. Just think, no more driving all across the country to look at pen after pen of yearling bulls. Or, you could build your dream herd of females off a spreadsheet of genetic predictions for maternal traits. Then again, maybe not.

“Phenotype is more critical now than ever,” seedstock producer Dave Nichols says. “It is what you can see and measure. In order to make gene discovery for growth and carcass merit, we have to have birthweight, weaning weight, performance and ultrasound or carcass data. Genomics add to the accuracy of what we already know.”

As an example of the importance of phenotype, the Bridgewater, Iowa, cattleman cites a multiyear National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium (NBCEC) study designed to find genetic markers for susceptibility to bovine respiratory disease (BRD), or pneumonia.

Researchers first identified sick cattle the old fashioned way, by observing them. Then, they took nasal swabs to confirm the diagnosis. Without first identifying sick cattle by phenotype, they probably wouldn’t be able to find genetic markers responsible for resistance to the costly disease.

Phenotype The Bull

Just as phenotype continues to be critical for researchers, it should also be high on producers’ lists when selecting bulls.

University of Georgia animal scientist Ronnie Silcox stresses “even genomically enhanced, expected progeny differences (GE-EPDs) don’t tell you everything you need to know. When I talk to commercial producers, I tell them EPDs are the first thing they need to look at. Use them to narrow down to a smaller group.”

Down to a manageable few, make the final bull selection with the eyes of an experienced cattleman.

“They must be functionally sound,” Silcox says. “Do both eyes work? Look at their feet and legs. Make sure they’ve had a Breeding Soundness Exam. It doesn’t matter how good a bull is, he’s not going to do you any good if he can’t get a cow bred.”

And, because most commercial producers sell feeder calves, Silcox says it’s important to consider whether a bull has enough muscle to grade like a No. 1 feeder calf. The same approach applies when selecting replacement heifers, whether those heifers come from your own herd or another producer. Narrow your selection using EPDs, then look hard at the heifer. If she can’t carry and raise a calf, she isn’t going to help your herd.

A Strong Combination

Phenotype continues to be vital in cattle selection. However, it’s the combination of EPDs and phenotype that’s moving herds to the next level. “EPDs are better than they’ve ever been. If you add the results of DNA tests to actual performance data, it can increase the accuracy to that of a bull that has produced eight to 10 calves,” Silcox says, describing what’s commonly known in the industry as GE-EPDs.

Consider a calving-ease yearling bull to use on heifers. If all you have are EPDs based on pedigree, and he is an embryo-transfer calf (his own birthweight doesn’t factor in) expect accuracy of just 5%. Add genomic test results to that, though, and accuracy can shoot up to around 40% for the same bull.

The less heritable the trait, the more genomic testing can improve accuracy. Auburn University animal scientist Lisa Kriese-Anderson says, “With lowly heritable traits like the reproductive traits, fertility, gestation length, age at first calving, genomic testing increases the accuracy of the EPD value as if the animal has had 10 to 12 calves on the ground.”

She says with the moderately heritable traits like weaning weight and average daily gain, adding genomic test results to the EPD analyses is like looking at 5 to 8 progeny of the animal. With highly heritable traits like carcass traits, or rib-eye area, marbling and fat thickness, genomic tests increase the accuracy at a rate of 2 to 3 progeny.

Even with this boost in accuracy from GE-EPDs, Kriese-Anderson believes, like Dave Nichols and Silcox, that there remain compelling reasons to keep phenotype in the selection process.

“We don’t know what every gene in the bovine genome is doing yet. We find a panel of markers that go with a trait, but not every gene that affects that trait is known. We still need actual measurements,” she says. “Not every purebred animal will get DNA-tested. We have to have the phenotype information to validate and compare with the genomic information. Someday, we may be able to just take DNA samples. But for now, we need both, and that’s OK.”