Does cow nutrition during pregnancy affect gene expression in the calf?

Traditional wisdom holds that an animal’s genetics and the environment it lives in can both affect feed efficiency (and other traits). In contrast, an animal’s genes do not directly influence the environment, and the environment does not directly influence an individual’s genes. Genetic influences are passed on from parents to offspring, while environmental influences are not.

There is growing evidence that the situation is not that straightforward; in some cases the environment may have a direct impact on the expression of an individual’s genes. This environmental impact might also be inherited, and is called epigenetics. Continue reading

New technologies to breed better barley

The nutritional value of barley grain comes from its seed starch content, but a great deal of barley is used for silage, greenfeed or swathgrazing. Therefore, it is important to know the nutritional value of the cut plant.

Nutritional value largely depends on how digestible the fiber (lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose) in the stem and leaves are. Barley varieties with higher whole plant digestibility allow cattle to obtain more nutrients per tonne of feed. Some barley varieties have more digestible fiber than others.

A recently-completed research project funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster studied the use of genomic technologies to make selection for improved digestibility in feed barley easier and faster. 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