Improving the genetic merit of your Luing herd through Signet recording
How your records can help your herd
Information you are already collecting about your cattle can be turned into EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values) and used as a powerful selection and marketing tool. EBVs show the genetic merit of cattle in specific traits, regardless of management so you can compare and rank animals across herds to identify the best. This means you can match the genetics of your cattle to the needs of your customers.
Neil McGowan of Incheoch Farm produces stud sheep and cattle explained how he uses performance recording in his Luing herd. He gave an insight to the benefits of performance recording and how it can be integrated to a beef herd. EBVs were already being used in the other beef and sheep enterprises so he understood how the extra information at his finger-tips could aid breeding decisions and is a powerful tool in making genetic progress.
What do you need to start recording:
All you need is to keep pedigree records, a set of scales and accurate records for your cattle. Signet recording your cattle is flexible, so can fit around your usual herd management, with young cattle needing to be weighed around every 100 days. These timings can often be combined with other key events such as weaning and vaccinations, so extra handling of the cattle is minimised as practised at Incheoch. ‘Collecting the birth weight of calves can be biggest challenge, but once you have a method sorted other records are very straightforward’. Whilst it would be great for birth weights to be recorded for all Luing cattle, it is an optional measurement as we are aware it may be difficult for some herds to collect this information. Recording difficult calving’s and the weights of growing cattle is an important part of recording.
You can supply this data electronically by exporting it from farm software or enter it directly online to Signetdata.com.
What do I get from performance recording?
Performance recording produces EBVs in 15 production traits, including: growth, muscling, calving ease and milking ability, which can be used to market your cattle and inform selection decisions.
The Signet service isn’t limited to producing EBVs, but is about helping you make the most of your data. When you log onto our database (Signetdata.com) you have access to:
- Breed reports- showing the cattle with the top genetics helping you find your next breeding bull and also helps raise the profile of your animals and herd
- Herd finder- appear in a listing of Luing breeders to grow your online presence
- Produce charts - these charts show the genetic merit of your cattle for shows and sales
- Produce your own catalogues - use the new cattle for sale feature to list cattle on and create catalogues
- Maximise gains and control inbreeding - part of the Signet service is an inbreeding calculator that takes into account an animal’s whole pedigree. Maximise genetic gain while managing the inbreeding in your herd
At Incheoch, EBVs are being used to identify cows whose daughters will be retained for breeding and has quickly helped to identify family lines that perform well in particular traits. When using EBVs it is particularly useful in looking into a different and directly compare cattle, this means bulls can be selected to best compliment your cows.
EBVs that Neil feels are important to focus on in the future are those that are lower accuracy at the early stage of recording in the breed; Calving Interval, Age at First Calving and Lifespan.
Performance recording so far in the Luing
Performance recording is a numbers game, so the more cattle recorded the more high merit animals will be found and the faster the genetic progress. In the last 10 years the number of Luing cattle recorded has increased from just over 100 in 2010 to nearly 450 in 2019. The more breeders and cattle involved the bigger the group to select from, the faster the progress.
Recording your herd only costs £140 (herd fee) and £5/ per cow, for a herd of 50 cow’s performance recording would only cost £390. There is also the option to ultrasound your cattle when they are £6/head or £175 minimum visit. All these prices are exclusive of VAT.
With numbers recorded increasing, it is an exciting future lies ahead for Luing breeders. Over the years breeders are building a large dataset that to inform the best breeding decisions but Neil is encouraged by the feedback he is getting from his figures already. He delayed performance recording his sheep, waiting for more breeders to start recording. Neil now feels that it would have been best to ‘get going immediately’ which he has applied to the cattle recording. ‘The Luing breed has a lot to offer the commercial suckler market and these customers are used to using figures to help select their bulls.’
You can use performance recording to help sell your breeding bulls
EBVs mean that you can show the genetic merit of your cattle in specific traits and overall genetic merit. Knowing the genetic merit of your bulls means that your customers have the confidence to invest in your genetics and shows that you am measuring and monitoring important traits.
Neil uses EBVs as ‘another piece of the picture’ when it comes to selling bulls, helping his customers add specific traits to their herds. It also means he can direct his customers to the ‘right bull for the job’ showing good performance in key areas.
Footnote: Neil McGowan: Nuffield Scholar
In 2015, Neil became a Nuffield Scholar and Neil’s report ‘Selection for efficiency: breeding better beef and sheep’ is now available on the Nuffield International website.
Neil was kindly sponsored by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. Signet are grateful for the use of this photo provided by the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust.