Tastier beef by genetic design

Caitriona Murphy

New research to examine the link between genetics and health and meat-eating quality has just begun at the Tully research centre in Co Kildare.

With many beef breeds now using meat quality as a successful marketing tool, the aim is to generate scientifically verified information on how genetics can contribute to better quality beef.

The research will also investigate the link between genetics and health traits such as their antibody defence as a result of vaccination.

Stephen Conroy from ICBF said the information would drastically increase the information available on young AI sires.

"For example, we can examine how and why different animals build up a good resistance to disease after being vaccinated and why other animals may not have the same antibody defence," he explained.

The overall aim of the project is to increase the amount of phenotypic (physical characteristics) information that can be linked to an animals' genetic make-up.

In the future, this will be used for genotyping of AI beef sires, in the same way that milk yield and other traits is linked to dairy AI sires.

Looking forward, suckler farmers and beef finishers will be able to select the animals they breed or buy by choosing bulls that produce highly efficient meat-producing animals with strong disease resistance.

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They will also be able to choose bulls that produced offspring whose meat tastes better to the consumer who buys it off the supermarket shelf or butcher counter.

Some 77 bulls have been purchased from 13 different herds across the country for the first trial, which began on August 20.

The bulls represent 10 different breeds and the majority of them are from G€n€ Ir€land progeny testing herds.

Born between August 1 and September 30 last year, the bulls are the progeny of 34 young AI sires and will be slaughtered at the end of a 90-day trial period in late November.

The commercial bulls were BVD and TB tested on-farm, as well as having their parentage DNA-verified.

Only animals with sire and maternal grandsire recorded information were selected for the trial.

The bulls were acclimatised for 30 days before the start of test, building up to an ad-lib concentrate diet.

They were also vaccinated and treated for fluke.

During the test all animals will be fed the same diet, and all feed intake will be measured for each animal.

Animals will be weighed weekly and linear scored at the start and end of the test.

"Performance testing allows us to accurately identify the animals that are truly superior in key profits traits such as weight for age, conformation and feed efficiency," said Mr Conroy.

Measurements that will be taken during the 90-day test will include:

1. Average daily gain (kg/ day): Average daily gain is a key indicator of growth rate, which is an important factor in all aspects of beef production.

2. Feed conversion efficiency (DMI/ADG): It is important to identify animals that are efficient users of feed, particularly at a time when concentrate feed costs are increasing at an alarming rate.

3. Scanned muscle and fat depth (mm): Muscle and fat depth are accurate indicators of meat and fat yield respectively and a major factor in the price a farmer will receive for his cattle from the factory.

4. Scrotal circumference (cm): Increased scrotal circumference is associated with earlier age at puberty, increased semen production and improved semen quality. It also has a favourable relationship with female fertility in daughters produced.

At the end of the trial, the bulls will be slaughtered and their carcasses examined for a number of meat quality measurements.

These measurements will include carcass grades and weight, primal yields and meat eating quality being obtained on individual bulls.

The current crop of bulls will be slaughtered in late November or early December.

Meanwhile, farmers will have the opportunity to examine the bulls on trial at an open day in Tully on Saturday, November 10. The FBD-sponsored event will cover recent developments in the beef €uro-Star indexes, G€n€ Ir€land, weight recording, HerdPlus and the current progeny testing trial.

By November, Tully will also have taken in younger animals for the next phase of the trial. Both these and the bulls going for slaughter will be on display on the day.

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