Simmental 3rd Suckler Dam Breed For Current Slaughter Generation

Simmental 3rd Suckler Dam Breed For Current Slaughter Generation

SIMMENTAL #3
SUCKLER DAM BREED

FOR CURRENT SLAUGHTER GENERATION

Prime cattle slaughter data from abattoirs across Great Britain between 2010 and 2019 shows the Simmental breed is currently the 3rd most popular dam breed for suckler producers, behind the Limousin and Aberdeen Angus breeds, and running neck and neck with Angus for the number two position.  Simmental dams accounted for 9.2% of prime cattle slaughtered during this time period.

Showing the importance of the Simmental breed in the national suckler herd it is reasonable to assume a significant percentage of Simmental genetics in the non-Simmental sired females. 

STEPPING IT UP WITH SNPs

DNA parentage testing has traditionally been done with microsatellite markers. These markers are simple repeats in the DNA sequence, and the number of repeats present is highly variable. This high level of variability is what allows us to correctly assign DNA-based parentage using a relatively small number of markers.

Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) occur when there is a high amount of variation amongst individuals at a single position in the DNA sequence. There are millions of SNPs present across the cattle genome. Genotyping using SNP ‘chips’ can provide data on many thousands of SNPs at once, as opposed to the small 16 marker panel for microsatellites. 

As well being used for parentage verification, genotype data from SNP chips can be used to assess animal status for many single gene traits, such as myostatin status, or carriers of disease mutations such as arachnomelia and curly calf syndrome. They are also the technology that underpins genomic selection, which uses phenotype and genotype information on a reference population of animals to predict genetic merit in cattle at an early age.

Historically, the cost of SNP genotyping has been higher than that of microsatellite genotyping, however these costs have significantly decreased over time, and are now much more comparable. Moving from microsatellites to SNP-based parentage verification will provide many opportunities to accelerate breed development.

BRITISH SIMMENTAL MOVING ITS DNA SERVICE PROVISION TO SINGLE NUCLEOTIDE POLYMORPHISM (SNP) TECHNOLOGY IN 2021

In a progressive step, the British Simmental Cattle Society will move its DNA services in 2021 from the presently used Microsatellite (MS) technology to Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) technology.   

The work to make the transition has commenced with the aim being that the new service will fully commence from 1st March 2021.   To explain this change as clearly and simply as possible, please see the following Q&A where we have anticipated what we think may be the most relevant and helpful questions:

Q: Why is the Society moving to using SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism technology)?

A: There are a few reasons but the first thing to say is that SNP technology provides an improved and robust parent verification test that is internationally accredited. The technology has been used in the livestock industry for almost a decade now and with most of the principle herdbooks, that work with Weatherbys, already having moved over.

Q: What other reasons are there to move to this new technology.

A:  Importantly, the increasing use of SNP technology at an industry wide level has seen a significant drop off in the use of Microsatellites (MS) for parentage verification purposes. Weatherbys have made clear that the use of MS technology will be phased out and possibly as early as 2022.  As use across the industry diminishes then costs for MS may also increase. Given this, it is important and sensible to make the transition to SNP technology in a good time prior to the phase out of MS. 

Q:  Are there any other advantages or benefits that moving to the SNP technology may bring members?

A: Yes.  As above, the SNP technology will bring improved and more robust sire and parentage verification and is a move forward in technology.  The SNP technology will also give the ability to add more to a single test, a parentage plus polled test would be an example of this.  Both could be done at one test and as opposed to two separate tests at a greater cost.  Members will therefore, in such an instance, make a considerable saving.

SNP technology will also give the platform from which, if the Society chose to do so, major gene testing can be carried out for a range of such as health traits, traits of economic importance, and for work in genomics generally. 

Q:  What will the cost of DNA testing for parentage verification be to members?

A: The base cost of SNP DNA testing is higher.  After full consideration Council have set the cost of a DNA test for parentage verification at £27.50. This increase is unavoidable but prices are in line with other principle breed society herdbooks.  The set price has a small margin on top of the cost price to the Society from Weatherbys.  This margin allows the Society to absorb some costs where additional DNA testing is required with regards to sale matters, general herdbook work, and for herd inspection work. As above, where you are requesting a further test such as polled at the same time the overall cost will be significantly lower.   For example Parentage + Polled will be £33.00 (£27.50 + £5.50) + VAT which is a considerable saving.

As noted in the second question, Weatherbys have made clear that the use of MS technology will be phased out and possibly as early as 2022.  As use across the industry diminishes then costs for MS may also have to increase.  

Q:  What work is required from here for the Society to make this transition?

A:  At present we are testing and SNP genotyping the most commonly used Simmental sires.  SNP genotyping these breeding bulls means the bull SNP profiles will be available in the parentage testing data base in advance of the offspring presenting for sire verification. So it is in effect a library of bulls to check progeny against and that has to be established prior to 1st March.

Q: How many bulls will require to be tested and who will pay for the SNP genotype testing of the most commonly used sires.

A:  The Society, in discussion with Weatherbys, are compiling a list of all Simmental sires that have had at least one calf registered to them in the last three years.  This will come to approximately 1500 sires.  These sires will require to be SNP genotyped with the total cost likely to be £25 – £30k.  Again, it’s an unavoidable cost and one which the Society will pay.

Q:  Why is the ‘new’ service provisionally set to commence from 1st March?

A: We want to make the transition quickly to ensure that members are getting the best value by using the best technology.  Continuing to use a technology that is getting phased out is not practical or sensible.  As noted, work has already started to make the transition.  If the hair samples are in the British Simmental sample archive, held in Weatherbys Scientific bio-bank, then these samples can be retrieved and SNP genotyped reducing the necessity to re-collect from animals.  There will inevitably be some samples from storage that may not be good enough to use and some bulls where we will have to request further hair samples from breeders.  We are taking aim at an eight-week working period to test these bulls and to make the transition from microsatellites to SNP’s.

Q: What will happen to the Society’s DNA testing between January 2021 and the 1st March?

A:  We are asking members to continue to submit DNA samples for testing as would be required.  The DNA samples received from now until 1st March will be logged and held, and then tested beyond the commencement date.  All samples received up to the 1st March will

be tested at the present prices.  The new pricing schedule will be applicable from 1st March and for samples received after that date.

If there are sale or ‘special’ situations where DNA testing is required then consideration will be given to this prior to March but it would be using the existing and in effect ‘old’ MS technology.

Q:  What challenges might the transition bring?

A:  We hope of course for the transition itself from MS to SNPs, and the DNA service provision thereafter, to be as smooth as possible.  It is likely, if not inevitable, that challenges will arise from time to time regarding such as ‘older animals’ and embryos in storage.  We hope that these will be at a minimum and each will have to be considered on their merits and as they arise.  Weatherbys have faced and successfully met similar challenges in other transitions, and whilst we are closer to the MS technology being phased out, we trust that this will also be the case during and beyond the Simmental transition also.   

Q: What about testing turn round times for SNPs

This is an important point.  The turn round time for DNA testing should be largely the same as at present i.e. from receipt of the sample, members should have results back within 4-6 weeks.  However, please note that the SNP process in itself takes 3 weeks from the time Weatherbys receive that sample, for samples to have DNA extracted and parentage tests carried out thereafter.   Therefore, particularly with reference to sale animals, samples will be required in plenty of time in advance of sale dates.  Where there are any problems or need for retesting following the initial sample being tested,  then at least three weeks is required for a second test beyond receipt of the sample at the lab.

Q: Are there any other suggestions for members in collecting samples?

A: Yes. If a member is selling/disposing of a bull that has had, or is due to have, progeny registered to him, then it would be good practise to collect a hair sample from the bull.  Identify the sample on the bag it’s put in, and keep in a drawer out of sunshine.  This could be very important in case the sample held and retrieved from Weatherbys is not good enough to be SNP profiled, or where a bull is having his first calves registered to him.     It would be sensible to take a hair sample in this manner from any pedigree breeding animal, male or female, that is being sold or disposed of, just in case there is a requirement for a DNA purpose, now or in the future.

Please note, hairs should be collected by plucking (not cutting) from the animal’s tail. This is preferable to hairs from the neck as the root follicles are bigger. It is recommended that 20-30 hairs are required per sample collected.

Q:  Will the Society be able to help with member queries around this transition now and beyond 1st March?

Absolutely.  The Society’s staff will be working hard to ensure the ‘new’ service is rolled out as smoothly as is possible and to help members with queries and problems.  Many members will remember Bloodtyping being the standard technology.  The livestock industry then transitioned to Microsatellites.  This move to SNP technology is the next and further step forward in the provision of DNA services. 

Igniting Genetic Improvement In British Simmental

Igniting Genetic Improvement In British Simmental

IGNITING GENETIC IMPROVEMENT

IN BRITISH SIMMENTAL

20 years of breeding – where have we come from, and what does the future hold?

Breeding lies at the foundation of any beef production system. Whilst herd breeding decisions are just one element of cattle management, selecting superior parents for breeding will lead to cumulative and permanent gains in herd productivity, profitability and efficiency. 

Suckler farmers across the UK have a variety of systems, resources and end markets, each of which has its own requirements in terms of both male and female performance. Identifying what you yourself, and your customers require from your cattle, is an essential first step to choosing a bull to breed your cows with. 

Good genetics are the basic building blocks of animal production, no amount of extra feed and good management 

can truly overcome the influence of poor genetics. The benefits of genetic improvement are both cumulative and permanent, so good breeding decisions will continue to pay dividends in the herd over many years, and the use of estimated breeding values (EBVs) across the agricultural industry has led to huge gains in productivity and profitability in the past 50 years. As the industry has gained more knowledge on the use of these tools, we are now able to continue that improvement in productivity while maintaining health and welfare traits.

In this article we take a closer look at Simmental genetic improvement since 2000, to discover how the breed has improved over time, and how more effective use of EBVs could speed up progress and add value within the breed.

Genetic index trends

Looking at the trend in index values for the Simmental breed since 2000 (Figure 1), we can see that the breed has made progress in terms of both the Terminal Index, and the Self Replacing Index. The breed averages (Mean EBV) for the Terminal and Self Replacing index have each increased by over 50%. For each index, animals that were within the top 10% of the breed in 2000, would find themselves in the bottom 20% of the breed by today’s standards. 

Breed strengths

In figure 2, we can see that over the past 20 years, the traits where we see the biggest improvements have been terminal traits such as weaning weight, yearling weight, and finishing weight, where genetic gains have increased by approximately 40% between 2000 and 2018. On the maternal side, milkiness remains a strength of the Simmental breed, where the breed average EBV has increased by 50% since 2000.

Breed challenges

In figure 3 we can see the genetic trend lines for the 4 traits relating to calving: birth weight, calving ease direct, calving ease daughters, and gestation length. Here we see an increase in genetic gain for birth weight, calving ease daughters, and gestation length, and a decrease in genetic gain for direct calving ease. Where there has to be care is in the trends that can be seen for birth weight and for calving ease direct, and particularly in a breed where value is placed on maternal characteristics. 

The Simmental has a recognised reputation for being an easy calving breed, and this may become an increasing challenge to take sight of and maintain if the current genetic trends for birth weight and direct calving ease continue. 

Both the calf and the dam have an effect on overall calving ease, the calf through its size and shape (the ‘direct’ component), and the dam through her pelvic size and shape (the ‘maternal’ component). The calving ease daughters EBV is made up of the maternal genetic component, plus ½ of the direct genetic component for calving ease. The increase we see in calving ease daughters over time will be driven by the maternal genetic component of this EBV. 

The other potential challenge is the EBV for mature cow size, where we see the breed average EBV increasing by over 1kg per year. Despite larger cows generally producing progeny with higher carcase weights, these gains are outweighed by higher cow maintenance costs, and decreased fertility. The question of “how heavy is too heavy” is discussed in more detail on page 80.

How can maternal traits be an issue if the self-replacing index is improving?

The Self Replacing Index is designed to rank bulls by their genetic potential for the production of female replacements while producing prime steers and excess heifers for beef production. It therefore takes into account both terminal and maternal traits. It is quite likely that the improvements in the self-replacing index are being driven by the terminal component of this index. It’s therefore important to look at individual EBVs for maternal traits, as well as the self-replacing index when selecting maternal bulls for breeding.

Where do we go now?

Trait (units)Current Change Per YearIntensity Of Selection (2019 Benchmark)
Milk (kg)0.1440%
Mature cow weight (kg)1.0945%
Carcase weight (kg)0.9045%
Eye Muscle Area (cm2)0.0845%
Gestation length (days)-0.0250%
Calving ease direct (%)-0.0350%
Calving ease daughters (%)0.0150%
Birthweight (kg)0.0650%
Weaning weight (kg)0.5450%
Yearling weight (kg)1.1650%
Finishing weight (kg)1.1450%
Scrotal size (cm)0.0250%
Fat depth (mm)-0.0150%
Retail beef yield (%)0.0450%
Intramuscular fat (%)-0.0150%

Table 1: the current rate of change per year for each recorded trait in Simmental cattle, based on animals born in 2000-2020, alongside intensity of selection that this is equivalent to.

Data since 2000 shows that the general strategy employed in breeding Simmental cattle is to select animals whose genetics reflect the breed average or better (Table 1). The breed has therefore taken the important first step towards good genetic progress, by not breeding from animals whose genetics are below average.

Although it’s a great first step, using the breed average as your selection threshold for breeding will set an upper limit to the amount of progress over time. If the breed continues to use “above average” as their selection threshold, while other breeds push towards breeding only animals from (for example) the top 20% of the breed, there is a high risk of the breed being left behind in terms of performance. 

To really ignite genetic progress in the breed, and ensure that the Simmental retains and kicks on it’s place in the UK beef market, then there is a challenge to hold your breeding cattle to higher standards of performance, and target only the top 25% of animals for use in breeding.   

At the moment it may not be as easy as you would like to identify these higher performing animals. As with so many things in life, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. The best way to identify the best genetics within the Simmental population is to encourage widespread performance recording among pedigree breeders. 

Take home messages:

  • Aim high, not average (select within top 25% of breed)
  • Performance record wherever possible “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”)
  • Keep an eye on maternal performance
  • Know your market, and breed animals that will excel for yourself and your customers

*The British Simmental Cattle Society uses the Breedplan system which is one of the most widely used beef recording systems in the world. Breeders submit weight and performance data to the Society which is in turn sent to ABRI, the providers of Breedplan, who generate the EBVs across a range of maternal and terminal traits. EBVs are calculated and updated on a monthly basis and fed back to members. Herd costs to performance record starts at £120 per annum.  If you are a BSCS member and wish to begin performance recording your herd, please email information@britishsimmental.co.uk and request a Breedplan membership pack.

Optimising Cow Mature Weight – How Heavy Is Too Heavy?

Optimising Cow Mature Weight – How Heavy Is Too Heavy?

OPTIMISING COW MATURE WEIGHT –

HOW HEAVY IS
TOO HEAVY?

Research by AbacusBio International on behalf of AHDB, QMS and HCC has used industry data to create a model of UK beef production systems, which shows how increases in mature size affect traits such as carcase size and cow maintenance requirements, and how these changes affect cost and revenue on farm.

Suckler cows in the UK have been increasing in size over time. Heavier cows provide extra value to the farm by producing heavier offspring, and by having a higher cull cow value. However, they also cost more to keep on farm, and so we must strike a balance on cow mature weight.

The AbacusBio International team compared the cost of producing cows with a mature weight of 651kg compared to those with a mature weight of 751kg. The results (Table 1) showed that heavier

cows benefit the modelled farm through higher cull cow revenue, and by producing offspring with higher carcase revenue and quality. However, heavier cows have higher costs in terms of maintenance feed and replacements, and they also suffer from a decrease in fertility, potentially producing less offspring in their breeding lifetime. Heavier cows also require more land than lighter cows, resulting in a reduced stocking density on farm. Once you combine all of these factors, the cost of production is higher for heavier breeding females and therefore profitability is worse. 

Having taken all of these effects into account and applying the model across a range of cow mature weights, the team found that the optimum mature weight for a breeding female is between 680 and 685kg. Beef producers who feed primarily home-grown feedstuffs may be able to keep breeding females of up to 700kg to optimise their profits, as the cost of producing home-grown feed is lower than the cost of buying feed in. 

Table 1: Herd margin over feed for different cow mature weights (based on a 100 cow herd). The margin over feed is the net revenue when feed is the only cost that varies. In this model, all other costs remain the same.

AnimalMature Weight   
651KG751KG
CostRevenueCostRevenue
Maintenance Feed£11,771£21,655
Cull Cow£10,924£13,144
Replacement Growth£10,620£16,588
Heifer Carcase Value£15,834£28,906£18,278£34,292
Steer Carcase Value£24,522£42,920£29,296£46,175
Bull Carcase Value£5,465$8,120£6,602£9,948
Total£68,213£90,872£92,420£103,561
Margin Over Feed*£22,658£11,140

Simmental cow mature weight trends

As mentioned on page 80, and can be seen in Figure 1, the genetic trend for mature weight has been increasing by over 1kg per year. The average EBV for mature cow weight for animals born in 2000 was 46.9kg, rising to 66.7kg for animals born in 2018.

Looking at the phenotypic trend for mature cow weight over time using Breedplan data is difficult due to the low level of mature weight recording in the breed. However, we have been able to get an estimate of Simmental mature cow size over time by analysing cull cow data from the slaughter records that are shared by abattoirs for use in the AHDB national beef evaluations. The estimates are based on multiplying the cow carcase weight by the industry average killing out percentage.

Figure 2 shows the distribution of cow mature weights for cows born in 2000 vs 2013 that were slaughtered between 5 and 10 years of age. In this 13 year period, the estimated average mature cow weight has increased by 56kg, from an average of 631kg back in 2000, to an average of 687kg in 2013.

Assuming that this dataset is a representative sample of the UK Simmental herd, this would suggest that in 2013, over 50% of mature cows weighed more than the optimum 685kg, and as the genetic potential for larger mature cow weight increases, the percentage of mature Simmental cows over the optimum mature weight is likely to be higher than 50% today. The profitability of the national herd is therefore lower than it could be.

To increase herd profitability, there is a strong argument of the importance that this trend for heavier cows is reversed. As mature weight is a heritable trait, we can use genetic improvement techniques to help take aim at the current trend.

Steps to optimise mature cow weight

  1. Where available, make use of selection indexes that have penalties applied to breeding female mature weight EBVs; this controls the increase in mature weight, associated with selection for early growth
  2. Weigh breeding females regularly and compare this to the weight of the calf they produce at weaning. It is aimed that a cow should produce 45% of her weight at weaning. Sign up for performance recording so that the data can be shared with Breedplan and used in genetic evaluation.
  3. Don’t retain heifers from your biggest cows in the herd, mature weight is heritable. 
  4. Buy sires where it is possible to assess the size/weight of the breeding females, and gather more intelligence about the genetic merit of the males for growth, mature weight and other genetic merit estimates
  5. Communicate with commercial farmers to understand the needs in the context of breeding female mature weight, with an understanding that bigger is not always better.
Commercial Carcase EBVs improving Productivity and Profitability

Commercial Carcase EBVs improving Productivity and Profitability

COMMERCIAL CARCASE EBVs
IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY
AND PROFITABILITY

SIMMENTAL RANKED UK’S #1 CONTINENTAL BREED
FOR AGE AT SLAUGHTER

A bull’s Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) provide you with a good idea of the genetic potential he will pass on to his calves, and should always be taken into consideration when purchasing stock bulls or choosing AI sires. Although terminal traits such as growth rate and muscle depth are a step in the right direction to producing profitable carcases, they are an indirect and therefore imperfect measure of carcase performance.

Work by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), with funding from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), has led to the publication of the AHDB National Beef Evaluations, a set of five EBVs that are linked to the things commercial farmers get paid for, such as carcase quality and speed of finishing. These are:

  • Carcase weight (kg) 
  • Carcase conformation (EUROP classification) 
  • Carcase fat class (EUROP classification) 
  • Days to slaughter (days) 
  • Average daily carcase gain (kg)

These EBVs are calculated using data from BCMS, processors and breed societies, giving high accuracy figures for bulls that have had progeny slaughtered. For young bulls, EBVs can still be calculated using data from their relatives, such as their parents and grandparents. These figures will get more accurate when their own progeny reach slaughter age. The processor data currently covers 40 per cent of the national kill and almost 3 million carcase records for both purebred and crossbred animals have been used in the latest genetic evaluation.

The heritability tells us what proportion of variation we see in a phenotypic trait is down to genetics. For the new carcase traits, over 40% of variation we see is a result of genetics, so making use of these new EBVs will greatly accelerate improvement in carcase characteristics.

Understanding the new carcase traits 

This set of EBVs is derived directly from commercial data, and should therefore be of high interest to commercial producers as well as the pedigree sector.

So as well as being useful when making your own breeding decisions, these EBVs could also be used as a marketing tool when selling stock bulls. They are also highly relevant to beef on dairy sires, with some bulls having the potential to produce a calf that will be much more profitable when put into the beef supply chain.

The carcase EBVs are the first to be released under the umbrella of the AHDB National Beef Evaluations, a growing set of EBVs based on commercial data sources. Further work currently in the pipeline includes the development of EBVs for age at first calving, calving interval, longevity and calf survival, and also EBVs for resistance to bovine tuberculosis.

DAYS TO SLAUGHTER

Definition: An EBV predicting days to slaughter at a given weight and fat class.
Calculated from: Dates of birth and slaughter. These are primarily obtained from records within the BCMS database.
Unit of measurement: Days
Interpretation: Skerrington Superstar has a days to slaughter EBV of -32.67. On average, he will produce progeny that reach slaughter 16.3 days earlier than progeny from a bull with a days to slaughter EBV of 0. High negative values for age at slaughter indicate animals whose progeny reach a given carcase weight faster (ie. in fewer days) than average.

CARCASE WEIGHT

Definition: An EBV predicting carcase weight at a given slaughter age.
Calculated from: Records of cold carcase weight provided by UK processors.
Unit of measurement: Kilogrammes (kg)
Interpretation: Skerrington Superstar has a carcase weight EBV of +5.19. On average, he will produce progeny whose carcases are 2.6kg heavier than progeny from a bull with a carcase weight EBV of 0.

CARCASE CONFORMATION

Definition: An EBV predicting carcase conformation at a given slaughter age.
Calculated from: Records of carcase conformation based on the EUROP classification system, provided by UK processors.
Unit of measurement: Carcase conformation scores converted to a 45 point score. A conformation grade (e.g. R to U) spans about 9 points.
Interpretation: Skerrington Superstar has a carcase conformation EBV of +0.02. On average, he will produce progeny whose carcase conformation is equivalent to that from a bull with a carcase conformation EBV of 0. A bull with a carcase conformation EBV of +9 would produce progeny that have conformation half a grade higher than a bull with a conformation EBV of 0.

CARCASE FAT CLASS

Definition: An EBV predicting carcase fat class at a given slaughter age.
Calculated from: Records of carcase fat class based on the EUROP classification system, provided by UK processors.
Unit of measurement: Fat class scores (ie values 1 to 5H) are converted to a 45 point score. The difference between the main grades is about 9 points.
Interpretation: Skerrington Superstar has a carcase a fat class EBV of 1.18. On average, he will produce progeny that are marginally fatter than progeny from a bull with a fat class EBV of 0. A bull with a fat class EBV of +9 will produce progeny that are half a grade higher (fatter) than a bull with a fat class EBV of 0.

AVERAGE DAILY CARCASE GAIN (ADCG) 

Definition: An EBV predicting daily gain in the carcase.
Calculated from: Carcase weight, date of birth and date of slaughter.
Unit of measurement: Kilogrammes (kg)
Interpretation: Skerrington Superstar has an ADCG EBV of +0.04. On average, the daily carcase gain of his progeny will be 0.02kg greater than progeny from a bull with an EBV of 0.

All five EBVs are expressed on two bases, native and continental, so EBVs for Simmental cattle can be compared directly with other continental beef breeds.

What does this mean for Simmentals?

Currently ranked #1 continental breed for age at slaughter

Based on data from the December 2020 evaluation on continental breeds, the Simmental breed ranks number one in terms of average EBV for days to slaughter, with an average EBV of -5.13 days. This average is currently significantly lower than the other continental breeds. The genetic trend for days to slaughter has a shallow downward slope, meaning that Simmental breeders are successfully breeding animals that finish at an earlier age, but there’s still plenty of room for more progress.

We do see high levels of variation in all five traits for all breeds, which combined with the high heritabilities means there is good scope for carcase improvement in every breed. To maintain the current breed advantage in terms of days to slaughter, Simmental breeders should make use of these new EBVs when making selection decisions to help accelerate genetic gain.

Remember: Carcase merit is only one aspect of a profitable beef enterprise. It is important to consider this new data alongside other EBVs when selecting individuals for breeding. For example, animals of high carcase merit should not be chosen to the detriment of health and fertility traits such as calving ease.

Identifying new sources of good genetics

Because the AHDB national beef evaluations are based on millions of commercial carcase records, accurate EBVs are available for a wide range of Simmental cattle.

In the latest run (December 2020), there were 3,902 Simmental bulls with high accuracy (≥80%) carcase traits EBVs. Of these 3,902 bulls, approximately 70% of animals had EBVs for weaning, yearling and finishing weight published on the Breedplan database, and less than 50% had EBVs available for eye muscle area and fat (Table 1). Less than 10% of the bulls had Breedplan EBVs with accuracies of ≥80%. 

The AHDB national beef evaluations therefore provide a good opportunity to make better informed decisions on breeding bulls who don’t have enough information within the Breedplan database for them to have high accuracy EBVs published.

Breedplan TraitAnimals with a published Breedplan EBV Animals with a published Breedplan EBV >80% 
N%N%
Weaning Weight283372.6%2476.3%
Yearling Weight283372.6%2225.7%
Finishing Weight283372.6%1804.6%
Carcase Weight211254.1%601.5%
Eye Muscle Area168043.1%40.1%
Fat Depth168243.1%441.1%

Table 1: The amount of Breedplan data available for 3,902 bulls with high accuracy carcase trait EBVs (≥80%) published via the AHDB national beef evaluations.

Accessing the data

The new EBVs can be accessed via the EGENES website and you can search by pedigree name or ear tag number, at http://ahdbbeef.egenes.co.uk/

Currently ranked #1 continental breed for age at slaughter

Based on data from the December 2020 evaluation on continental breeds, the Simmental breed ranks number one in terms of average EBV for days to slaughter, with an average EBV of -5.13 days. This average is currently significantly lower than the other continental breeds. The genetic trend for days to slaughter has a shallow downward slope, meaning that Simmental breeders are successfully breeding animals that finish at an earlier age, but there’s still plenty of room for more progress.

We do see high levels of variation in all five traits for all breeds, which combined with the high heritabilities means there is good scope for carcase improvement in every breed. To maintain the current breed advantage in terms of days to slaughter, Simmental breeders should make use of these new EBVs when making selection decisions to help accelerate genetic gain.

“Why is the average progeny performance half of the EBV value?”

The EBV is the measure of the genetic merit of the bull. He contributes 50% of his genetics to his progeny, therefore the average progeny performance is 50% of the EBV value.

“Will such small increases in conformation and fat class really make a difference?”

Example shows small benefits (less than half a grade) for conformation and fat class. It’s important to remember that genetic improvement is both cumulative and permanent, so even small improvements will add up over generations to produce higher performing animals.

“How reliable are the new EBVs?”

As with the BREEDPLAN EBVs, the new carcase trait EBVs have an accuracy value associated with them. The higher the accuracy value, the more reliable the result. EBVs are only published for animals where the accuracy for all five traits is over 30%. 

How can you help to make these EBVs better?

The production of these EBVs relies on sire details being recorded on passports to be able to identify genetic links between bulls and recorded progeny. In the latest genetic evaluation (December 2020), there were 5 million carcase records that could not be utilised because the sire was not recorded in BCMS, so genetic links could not be made. We are urging farmers to make sure they record known sires when registering animals with BCMS as this is the best way to improve the range and accuracy of these EBVs. As well as recording all known sires for your own herd, please encourage buyers of stock bulls to do the same. Increasing the level of sire recording will allow us to identify genetic links between cattle and improve the accuracy

Simmentals Fitting Into Organic, Low Cost System In West Wales

Simmentals Fitting Into Organic, Low Cost System In West Wales

SIMMENTALS

FITTING INTO
ORGANIC, LOW
COST SYSTEM

IN WEST WALES

Highlighting the flexibility and adaptability of the Simmental breed to all systems and geographies, here we feature the organic suckler herd and Welston pedigree herd of Anthony and Harry Davies, Tenby, Pembrokeshire.

Welcome to West Wales, where my son Harry and I farm 275 acres together with another 120 rented acres.  Our climate is gentle thanks to the gulf stream and ideal grass growing country, which we try to utilise to the max.  We carry 105 suckler cows and all followers are kept right through to either breed or to fatten.  The farm has been organic for more than 20 years, producing milk, corn and beef.  Without the use of chemicals, the farm has thrived with the dairy herd averaging 7800 litres/cow.  Clovers – red and white – are the mainstay with arable silage boosting yields.  In 2011 we decided to sell off the milking cows and increase the suckler herd.  The majority of our beef cows were graded up from the dairy herd, and we found half bred cows had loads of milk, whilst the 15/16th cows have a lot more muscle.  Each year we try to bull 20 to 25 heifers, and now all pedigree.

The simple organic, low-cost system we employ, also helps with a low carbon footprint.  Growing clover to fix nitrogen means we are able to graze from 1st March until November in most years.  We make our own silage with a forage wagon and spread the manure back onto the silage ground.  About 10% of the farm is reseeded each year, following the arable silage which we have gone back to this last 2 seasons.  A mix of barley, oats and peas under sown with ryegrass and clover to give cover over the winter.  For next year we will introduce vetches and radish for deep tap root penetration of the soil.  We also aerate the farm each year to allow oxygen into the soil.  Soil health means crop health which in turn means stock health. 

We originally bought Simmentals in 1987 after using MMB Halo on the dairy cows.  Those first cross breds showed to us the growth the breed had, and so our first pedigree purchase was Estelle 3rd and Tascha 14th from the Heywood sale.  Then, in 1990, came Revelex Avril 3rd, Avril 11th and Avril 12th out of Fincham Avril ERM.  We always look for stock from a very good female line.  Fincham Avril should have made Golden Cow, but alas, because she had moved farms, she didn’t have 3 calved cows on the same unit and so missed out.  The Avril family went on to produce Welston Frontier Avril who classified EX94. The Tascha family became our firm favourites with Welston Elgars Tascha classified Ex94, and a host of daughters classifying excellent (and maybe one of the first EX Simmentals to breed 3 generations EX).   Having bred Holstein for 30 years, Beef Character, legs and feet, body and mammary had improved the dairy herd no end, so we were keen to classify the Simmentals as we are well aware of the benefit.  

Initially, we had only used AI – Rickardstown Jumbo and Camus Brandy on our pedigree Simmentals.  However, we also used Sacombe Wishful Thinking on dairy cows and heifers as well as pedigree Simmentals.  Wishful Thinking was a very good all-round bull.

We decided we needed our first stock bull, which we found in Ireland when we bought Jennalyn Aspen from Clonagh – a son of Banwy TRex out of Milton Sapphire ET.  He is a full genetic brother to Clonagh Darling Eyes. In 2015 we purchased Shiloh Farm Forever Royal, a son of Kilbride Farm Bantry out of Shiloh Farm Royal Babe ET – a Hercules daughter.  Royal was Junior Champion bull at Tullamore also winning 8 first prizes that show season.  He has bred extremely well for us, being a long bull and has Classified EX 94. He is breeding smaller cows with extra length which is perfect for us.  In August 2018, we decided to look for a polled bull which we found in Northern Ireland and came home with Kilbride Farm Hans PP EX93 – a son of Sneumgaard Imperator out of Kilbride Farm Fanni 44 – a daughter of Hoeness.  We have used him on the heifers for the last 2 seasons and so far, we have been very pleased with the calves. Our recent Classification resulted in a further 15 cows and 2 bulls going EX.

The Classification for these 2 bulls is shown below as well as 6 heifers from Royal –

 BODY CONFIRMATION
BEEF CHARACTERLEGS/FEETMAMMARYRUMPFINAL CLASSIFICATION
KILBRIDE FARM HANS PPEX93EX94EX930EX92EX93
SHILOH FARM FOREVER ROYAL
EX94EX95EX950EX93EX94
ROYALS PROGENY
85858485084.86

We aim to breed easy care cattle that don’t cause us problems.  So, temperament, milk, growth, and easy calving are the goal.  We fatten off grass and silage with a guide cost for grass at £1/kg dry matter, silage at £3/kg dry matter and concentrates (if used) at £5/kg dry matter.  However, being organic, we aim to finish off grass wherever possible.  Royal’s progeny are grading particularly well as shown below by the kill sheet from a consignment sent in June 2020.  

 GRADEQUANTITYAVERAGE WEIGHTPAY WEIGHTAVERAGE VALUEPRICE PER KG.
HO CROSSR4L2338.3676.61522.354.5
SO CROSSR31440.440.1892.4.3
SO CROSSR31430.430.1870.54.35
SO CROSSR31420.6420.61850.644.4
SOR31412.8412.81836.964.45
SOR4L1440.440.1892.4.3
SOR4L1422.2422.21857.684.4
HOR32366.3732.61648.354.5
HO-U31330.2330.21512.324.58
SO-U32421.1842.21886.534.48
SO-U31411.4411.41863.644.53

In January 2019 we decided it might be a good exercise to take pelvic measurements of the heifers.   So, Richard Cummings, Cwarre Herd, who is a local vet, came along with a measuring instrument and measured the pelvises of our heifers.   Having measured the width and depth at this stage, you can calculate the size of a calf, by weight, that the heifer can deliver without difficulty.   We felt this information would be very useful before bulling, in order to calculate what size calf can pass safely through the pelvis. The pelvic area grows at a fairly constant rate from 9 to 24 months of age.  Heifers pelvic area increases slightly faster from 10 to 15 months versus 16 to 24 months.  The Continental breeds average growth is 0.30 cm sq. Per day and the native breeds are 0.25 cm sq. per day.  This relates to 8 or 10 cm sq. increase per month for this period.

Below is a list, by age, weight and calving history of our results:

Welston HerdAGE IN MONTHSWEIGHTPELVIC WIDTHPELVIC HEIGHTPELVIS SIZECALFWEIGHT KGSIREDIFFICULTY
COOMBER AVRIL
276101620320HEIFER40HANS
APOSTLE HONEY275601417238BULL47HARRYCEASEAR
MANS/MAN AVRIL2557816.517280HEIFER43HARRY
ROYAL TASCHA2356014.517246.5BULL42HANSPULLED
EDWARD CANDY2351413.515202.5BULL44ICON
ASPENS ANNAKEL224901417238DEADCALF
ROYAL TASCHA 2224801415210BULL43NEWRY
ROYAL WELCOME224801516240BULL41HANS
ASPEN TASCHA225041516240HEIFER40HANS
ROYAL ANGEL2146514.516232BULL41HANS
EDWARDS AVRIL204041416224BULL47ICON
ASPEN TASCHA 21642314.515217.5HEIFER38HANS
ROYAL KARINA twin1533811.514161BULL43HARRYSLIGHT PULL
ROYAL KARINA 21335011.514161HEIFER40HARRY
COOMBER ANGEL13.540012.513.5169HEIFER40HANS
MANS GENIES13.542012.514175TWINSHARRY
MANS GENIES134201416224BULL47HARRYPULLED
BULLSAGE IN MONTHSWEIGHTPELVIC WIDTHPELVIC HEIGHTPELVIS SIZECALFWEIGHT KGSIREDIFFICULTY
WELSTON IVAR218101315.5202
WELSTON ICON2179012.513.5169

100 cows weighing 700 to 800 kg eat the same amount of feed as 120 cows weighing 600 to 650 kg. and also produce an extra 20 calves per year.  Basically, we are currently trying to breed a small to medium cow that is polled, out of dams classified Very Good or Excellent with a self-replacing index in the top 25%.   

We now have our first home produced poll bull – Welston King Hans – son of Kilbride Farms Hans PP EX93 and out of Curaheen Gretal P EX92 (a granddaughter of Raceview Merle Beauty).  He looks very promising.

We believe the Simmental has all the leading traits of all the other breeds put together, but also believe that we must get more efficient by breeding a correct cow or bull of moderate size that can wean a calf weighing 50% of the dams’ body weight.  Heifers must calve by 2 years old, be easy calving with fewer than 3 to 5 per cent needing calving assistance.  They need to be efficient foragers and converters with optimum milk yield.  Good Classification will lead to longevity and so more calves produced per cow. Earlier in the year we purchased 6 Stabilizer heifers in order to directly compare the breeds and maybe follow some of their strengths in conversion of feed.

Our aim last year was to reduce cow size by about 100kg.  For every 100kg reduction per individual, 15% more cows per acre can be carried.  We intend to breed moderate cows, that are polled, Classified VG and EX with estimated breeding values in the top 20%.

A highlight for us in 2020 was the Virtual Show held by the Welsh Club, with Welston Harry winning overall Male Champion.  The Welsh Club was founded 30 years ago and it has been a great way of meeting fellow breeders at home and in Ireland.

A few final thoughts.  We need to work with our neighbours as one breed.  Simmental is one of the largest breeds in the world but we have to be open and mindful that this great breed is slipping behind in the UK.  We must look at the work of breeds like the Stabilizers who are measuring feed efficiency, weight trait trend, average weaning and finisher index by year of birth and, most importantly, average profit by year of birth which has improved by 100% since 2010.  Stabilizers also claim to be the most carbon efficient suckler cow, and, another milestone, they are now geonomically testing to enhance all their EBVs.  Don’t forget, the Stabilizer has Simmental in its makeup!  With all our leading traits, Simmental can get back to be THE LEADING BREED.  

Let’s make it happen!