Utilizing Multibreed Commercial Slaughter Information in Beef Selection Indices in Ireland J.M. Hickey1,4,5, P.R. Amer2, A.R. Cromie3, A. Grogan3, M. P. L. Calus4, B.W. Wickham3, R.F. Veerkamp4 1

Teagasc, Grange Research Centre, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland, Abacus Biotech Limited, Otago House, PO Box 5585, Dunedin, New Zealand, 3 Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, Highfield House, Shinagh, Bandon, Co. Cork, Ireland, 4 Animal Sciences Group, PO Box 65, 8200 AB Lelystad, The Netherlands, 5 Faculty of Agri-Food and Environment, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland. E-mail: [email protected] 2


Abstract The first aim of this study is to review the recent development of economic selection indices for beef cattle in Ireland, consisting of a beef production sub index (BPSI), beef and dairy calving sub indices (BPSI, DCSI), a maternal sub index (MSI), a weaned calf sub index (WCSI) and consequential total beef merit indices. The sub indices are designed to increase the profitability of different specific components of the beef industry. Secondly some initial results of a project that has begun, aiming to further optimize these developments, are presented. This project will focus on several issues including trait definition, modeling of breed effects in Irish data sets and determining appropriate fixed and random effects in a multibreed scenario. Initial heritabilities for carcase weight, carcase fat and carcase conformation as a function of age, using data gathered routinely in abattoirs, are presented. The data set was multibreed in nature. Fixed regressions on breed fractions were used to model breed effects. Carcase conformation for younger animals tended to have moderate to high heritabilities (0.320.50), while carcase fatness and carcase weight heritabilities for the same age range were slightly lower (0.23-0.39).


Introduction To facilitate an Irish beef breeding program, recording systems, a central database, a genetic evaluation system, and economic indices have been put in place. The objectives of this paper are twofold. Firstly to briefly describe these developments in Ireland, and secondly to present the first results of a project that aims to further optimize genetic selection across breeds using abattoir information. Several questions will be addressed including appropriate fixed and random effects, modeling of breed effects in Irish data and trait definition. The initial focus is on trait definition as a function of age.

Data recording and genetic evaluation The Irish genetic evaluation currently includes data on weights from pedigree herds and commercial weanling markets, weight and feed intake recorded on elite beef bulls at the Tully central testing station and carcase data recorded on pure and crossbred beef and dairy cattle in abattoirs by the national Cattle Movement and Monitoring System. Calving dates, sire and dam of calves and other valuable breeding and calving records are being captured from beef suckler farms, providing further information for genetic evaluation on maternal performance. These records are combined in a multitrait, across breed 1

BLUP analysis providing breeding values for carcase conformation score, carcase fatness score, and carcase weight, feed intake, live weight and weaning weight. Linear type classification scores are also being investigated as early predictors of these traits. Furthermore, genetic evaluations of direct and maternal calving ease have been implemented across cattle breeds. Genetic evaluations for calving interval and survival are under development.

weaning weight and carcase conformation score. Linear assessment scores in live pedigree animals will be added shortly. Continental breeds again perform better on this index but there is again considerable overlap between breeds for the rankings. There is good agreement between performance on the BPSI and the WCSI because of a strong relationship between carcase weight and carcase conformation observed both within and across breeds.

Economic indices To simplify selection decisions, economic breeding indices, were released for widespread industry use in March 2005. The indices are partitioned into sub indices, each having common units (€), with positive always better. Information from the sub indices allows Irish cattle farmers (dairy and beef) to fine tune their selection decisions to their own specific needs. Discounted gene expressions (Berry et al., 2005) and economics of beef production were accounted for (Amer et al., 2001).

Calving Sub Indices: The calving sub indices place direct costs on dystocia, increased gestation length and calf mortality. In beef the BCSI, dystocia receives 47.7% of the weight. A 12.5% weighting is placed on gestation length and 39.7% on mortality. For dairy, the DCSI is similar with larger relative weighting (46.9%) on gestation length, a 43.4% weight on calving difficulty and a 9.7% weight on calf mortality. The calving sub indices favor breeds which have not been heavily selected for growth and conformation, such as the Aberdeen Angus and Hereford.

Beef Production Sub Index: The BPSI aims to select a profitable slaughter generation. Carcase weight accounts for approximately 57% of the index weight with 21%, 13%, 5% and 4% emphasis on dry matter intake, carcase conformation, weaning weight, and carcase fat respectively. In general the continental breeds perform better on this index but variation exists within breeds with consequential overlap between breeds (Figure 1). Weaned Calf Sub Index: The WCSI aims to increase the genetic potential of calves sold at weaning. Calf quality has a weighting of 67% and weaning weight has a 33% weighting. Calf quality is currently predicted from

Maternal Sub Index: The MSI will select profitable female replacements for the national beef herd. Calf mortality will receive 36.8% of the weight. Calving difficulty maternal (20.4%), calving difficulty direct (19.1%), cow survival (9.7%), gestation length direct (6.8%), calving interval direct (3.0%), weaning weight maternal (2.4%), weaning weight direct (0.15%) and cull cow carcase weight (0.2%) will receive progressively lesser weightings. The different indices favor different breeds. This is evident when rankings of animals of different breeds for the BPSI and the WCSI are compared (Figure 1). The Aberdeen 2

Angus performs well on the BCSI and less well on the BPSI. The reverse is true for the Charolais. Rankings on the BPSI, €20.0


€10.0 -€50.0

€0.0 €0.0 -€10.0

AA €50.0






-€30.0 -€40.0 BPSI

Figure 1. Performance of the bulls of four breeds, the Charolais (CH), the Aberdeen Angus (AA), the Hereford (HE) and the Belgian Blue (BB, on the beef production sub index (BPSI) and the beef calving sub index (BCSI).

the WCSI and the calving indices were published in March 2005. Increasing the numbers of commercial beef herds from which pedigree data is collected, which will facilitate analysis of calving interval and survival, will allow publication of rankings on the MSI and a total beef index in the future. The total beef merit indices combine the different sub indices. Construction of these overall indices is based on the expected proportions of animals exported alive at weaning, retained for slaughter in Ireland, or retained as replacement females in the national herd. Further developments: Materials and methods The 521,579 records, used to estimate heritabilities for age class carcase traits, were gathered in Irish abattoirs. Edits ensured that animals had records of carcase fat (CF), carcase conformation (CC) and carcase weight (CW), birth herd, fattening herd, abattoir, slaughter age and at most two lifetime movements between farms. The pedigree was traced back 10 generations if possible. Records were then divided into 9 classes based

Table 1. Age class and number of records for the defined traits Age class No. of rec. 371-520 4800 521-665 6785 666-765 36187 766-865 25329 866-916 10526 917-1095 4864 1096-11660 14909 300-875 88052 876-4000 37026

on age at slaughter (Table 1). Age classes placed animals slaughtered at progressively later stages of life in separate classes or into two classes of young and old animals. Animals with a CW record >3 standard deviations from the mean of each age class were removed. Within age classes, 3 contemporary groups were formed, based on birth herd, year and season, finishing herd, year and season and factory year and season (Crump et al., 1997). Breed fractions were then Table 2. Scaling of conformation (CC) and fat classes (CF) to a continuous scale CC CF 15 5 15 7 point point point point scale scale scale scale E+ 15 5+ 15 E= E 14 5= 5 14 E13 512 U+ 12 4+ 4H 9.8 U= U 11 4= 4 9 U10 44L 8.3 R+ 9 3+ 7.13 R= R 8 3= 3 6 R7 36 O+ 6 2+ 5 O= O 5 2= 2 4.5 O4 24 P+ 3 1+ 4 P 2 1 3 P= 1= 1 3 P1-

calculated by accumulating the primary breeds of ancestors from the 5 previous


generations. Animals with an unknown breed fraction of >0.375 were removed. 160,333 animals remained for genetic analysis. CF and CC records were on either a 15 point scale or on a 5 point EUROP scale for CC or a 7 point 1,2,3,4L,4,4H and 5 scale for CF. Each score was given a value on a linear scale (Table 2). For CF scores this was based on extensions of Kempster et al. (1986). CW, CF and CC within each age class were defined as different traits. For each trait, univariate analyses with a sire model, was carried out in ASReml (Gilmour et al., 2000). Fixed effects for sex, a fourth order polynomial on age at slaughter, the interaction between these two effects, contemporary groups of birth, fattening and slaughter and fixed regressions on fractions of seventeen breeds, on unknown breed fraction, on heterosis and on recombination were included. Results and Discussion CC traits have higher heritabilities than CF or CW traits (Table 3). The oldest classes of animals 1096 – 11660 and 876 – 4000 have lower heritabilities, being 0.10-0.13 and 0.180.32 respectively. Irregular treatment of older animals within herds resulting in inflated phenotypic variance could be a reason for these lower heritabilities. Cows slaughtered in the same contemporary groups may cease lactation at different times and consequently having different opportunities to gain body reserves. Conclusion Different breeds perform better on different indices. There is variation within breeds in their performance on indices. Consequently breeds overlap in their performance on the different indices. Age does not appear to cause a

trend in the heritability of carcase traits measured on the EUROP scale in animals slaughtered at less than 30 months of age. Table 3. Heritabilities (h2) and standard errors (as subscripts) for carcase conformation (CC), carcase fat (CF) and carcase weight (CW) traits measured on animals of different ages CC CF CW Age class h2 h2 h2 371 - 520 0.50 0.04 0.29 0.05 0.23 0.05 521 - 665 0.37 0.04 0.25 0.04 0.39 0.04 666 - 765 0.44 0.02 0.33 0.02 0.35 0.02 766 - 865 0.49 0.02 0.25 0.02 0.28 0.02 866 - 916 0.37 0.04 0.24 0.04 0.31 0.04 917 - 1095 0.42 0.04 0.25 0.04 0.15 0.05 1096 - 11660 0.10 0.03 0.12 0.02 0.13 0.03 300 - 875 0.50 0.01 0.32 0.01 0.36 0.01 876 – 4000 0.32 0.02 0.16 0.02 0.18 0.02


Amer, P.R., Simm, G., Keane, M.G., Diskin, M.G., Wickham, B.W., 2001. Breeding objectives for beef cattle in Ireland. Livest. Prod. Sci. 67 (3): 223-239. Berry, P.B., Madalena, F.E., Cromie, A.R.,Amer,P.R., 2005. Cumulative discounted expressions of dairy and beef traits in integrated cattle populations. Livest. Prod. Sci. (In Press). Crump, R. E., Wray, N. R., Thompson, R., Simm, G., 1997. Assigning pedigree beef performance records to contemporary groups taking account of within-herd calving patterns. Anim. Sci. 65:193–198. Gilmour, A.R., Cullis, B.S., Welham, S.J., Thompson, R. (2000). ASREML Reference Manual. NSW Agriculture. Kempster, A.J., Cook, G.L., GrantleySmith, M., 1986. National estimates of the body composition of British cattle, sheep and pigs with special reference to trends in fatness. A review. Meat Science 17, 107–138.


Utilizing Multibreed Commercial Slaughter Information in Beef Selection Indices in Ireland

Economic Indices for Beef Beef production sub index Weaned calf sub index Beef calving sub index

J.M. Hickey, P.R. Amer, A.R. Cromie, A. Grogan, M.P.L. Calus, B.W. Wickham, R.F. Veerkamp

March ‘05

Dairy calving sub index Maternal sub index Total Beef Merit Indices


• Beef Herds • Dairy Herds

Objectives and Context Developments in Irish beef genetic evaluations and indices Initial results of further optimization Context: Beef cattle population structure

Sub Indices Beef Production Sub Index Animals born and reared to slaughter on farm Components • Weight, Feed requirements, Quality

Weaned Calf Sub Index Animals sold for export at weaning Components

• Sires primarily purebred • Beef animals primarily crossbred • Many breeds and crosses

Beef data in Ireland Calving survey AI Animal events (fertility, pedigree identification) Linear scores on farm Weight records Tully beef performance test centre (plus feed intake) On farm Markets

Slaughter data from factories central database ICBF

Ranking on BPSI versus WCSI Weaned Calf Sub Index (WCSI)

Beef Evaluations in Ireland July 2000 – ICBF established • Animal recording • Central database • Within breed evaluations January 2004 • Multitrait & Multibreed Genetic evaluations • Economic indices January 2005 • PhD thesis “Multibreed Genetic Evaluations” Partners • Animal Sciences Group, Netherlands • Irish Cattle Breeding Federation • Abacus Biotech, New Zealand • Teagasc – Irish Agriculture Development Authority

• Weaning weight, Calf quality









€50.0 €0.0 -€100.0 -€50.0 -€50.0€0.0

HE €50.0 €100.0 €150.0 €200.0



Beef Production Sub Index (BPSI)

Calving sub indices Beef Calving Sub Index Specialist beef herds Components • Dystocia, Gestation length, Calf mortality

Dairy Calving Sub Index Beef byproduct of dairy industry Similar to BCSI Lower weight on calf mortality


Results Heritabilities for age <30 months

€20.0 €10.0


€0.0 -€50.0 -€10.0€0.0






-€20.0 -€30.0 -€40.0 Beef Production Sub Index (BPSI)


0.5 Heritability

B e e f C a lv in g S u b In d e x (B C S I)

Ranking on BPSI versus BCSI


conf fat wt

0.3 0.2 0.1 0 400







Average age of trait

Older animals – low h2 1096-11660 days h2 range 0.10-0.13 876-4000 days h2 range 0.16-0.32

Further Optimization – Age at Slaughter 160,333 animals Carcass, weight, fatness, conformation EUROP score transformed to linear scale

Multibreed data set Purebred and crossbred

Characteristics Large range of ages Different systems of rearing Artificial retention dates imposed

Summary Different indices favor different breeds Within breed variation exists Carcass conformation = higher h2 No age trend for h2 at <30 months >30 months low h2

Trait Definition 9 age class traits 1-7 • Progressively older animals • Two criteria – Points of change in distribution – Minimize age differences within a class 8-9 • Young animals • Old animals

Thank you for your attention

Sire model Fixed effects Sex Fourth order polynomial of age Sex age polynomial interaction Contemporary groups • Birth, herd and season • Finishing, herd and season • Factory and season

Fixed regression Breed fraction Heterosis Recombination



Utilizing Multibreed Commercial Slaughter ...

selection indices for beef cattle in Ireland, consisting of a beef production sub index. (BPSI), beef and ... including trait definition, modeling of breed effects in Irish data sets and determining appropriate fixed ..... Artificial retention dates imposed.

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