Improving tenderness in beef cuts

There are a number of commercially available DNA tests for beef tenderness that effectively identify differences in ribeye tenderness related to post-mortem aging. Unfortunately, the beef cuts that need the most improvement are those that are tough due to connective tissue, which does not respond to aging. Additionally, there are theoretical concerns that selecting for feed efficiency may reduce beef tenderness.

Research currently underway and funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster is working to gain a better understanding of the genetic factors underlying differences in tenderness among different muscles.

This is an important Continue reading

Next time you process cattle, pull tail hairs

DNA Sampling and Application in the Cow Herd

This is a guest post written by Sean McGrath, a rancher and consultant from Vermilion, AB.

DNA is the genetic code that determines how an animal grows, performs and interacts with its environment. Every animal inherits DNA from its parents with ½ coming from the maternal side and ½ from the sire. The building blocks of DNA are four base pairs: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G) and Cystosine (C). DNA is arranged in long ‘double strings’ in which A and T are paired and C and G are paired. A ‘gene’ is an area of this double string that codes for a specific function in the animal. By substituting one or more base pairs in the gene (i.e.: replacing an AT pair with a GC pair) a different function may be expressed in the animal (i.e.: red coat colour vs. black).

Technology to examine DNA in cattle has been around for several years, however in the past it has been cost prohibitive. Newer technology called SNP (pronounced “snip”) has changed much of this and made DNA testing a viable option for beef producers, even at commercial industry levels. SNP technology looks for Continue reading

EPDs: What do all those numbers mean?

This is a guest post written by Karin Schmid, Beef Production Specialist with the Alberta Beef Producers.

Bull buying season is upon us.  If your house is anything like my family’s, most available surfaces are now piled high with catalogues advertising the next great herdsire. There are many factors that play a role in choosing a new bull for your operation (visual observation, breed, pedigree, actual birth weight, residual feed intake (RFI), weaning weights, breeding soundness evaluation, etc.), but one tool that can aid in herdsire selection has led to a lot of confusion since its first use over 40 years ago. Let’s decipher this valuable tool so you can expertly evaluate potential herdsires as you flip through those sale catalogues. Continue reading

New video explains the use of RFI to select for feed efficiency

A new episode is now available on

Efficient feed conversion has always been a priority to cattle feeders, and is increasingly on the minds of cow-calf producers as record high feed costs and conversion of grassland to crop acres substantially increase winter feeding costs. Feed efficiency is heritable, so by selecting feed efficient sires and dams, feeder offspring will consume less feed to reach a finished weight, and seedstock offspring should require less feed to maintain a healthy body weight. In addition to lower feed requirements, improved feed efficiency will also Continue reading

Genomics 101

Genomics, the study of DNA sequences, has received a lot of interest and research investment in the beef and cattle industry.  Genomics is important to the industry, especially the seedstock sector, because it has the potential to substantially reduce production costs and improve the value of beef and cattle.  For example, if DNA tests could accurately predict the genetic merit of a potential breeding animal (for mature cow size, feed efficiency or tenderness, for example), culling decisions could be made at birth and save the breeder a lot of time, effort and expense.

All living animals have a genetic blueprint, which is recorded in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Based on the DNA blueprint’s instructions, protein from the diet is digested into approximately 20 different amino acids.  The amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream, travel to various locations in the body, and then assemble into new proteins.  Proteins make up several important parts of cattle, including enzymes, hormones, hooves, hair, horns, skin, muscles, ligaments, tendons, internal organs, cartilage, and even parts of the skeleton. Continue reading