Superior carcasses through technology
Raising cattle that achieve top rankings in both yield and quality grade is no simple task—in fact, only 0.03 percent of the fed beef population in the U.S. makes the coveted Prime Yield Grade 1 carcass.
Increasing the number of superior carcasses was the topic of conversation during the recent Range Beef Cow Symposium. During the Symposium, Dean Hawkins from West Texas A&M University, shared working with tissue from exceptional carcasses and cloning could help more U.S. cattle producers raise superior cattle.
Awareness of and the potential of cloning in the livestock industry was first noticed in 1996 with the cloning of “Dolly” the ewe. Since “Dolly,” more cloning has occurred in the livestock industry including cattle, horses and sheep. Typically clones are produced from a tissue biopsy from a superior living sire or dam.
However, West Texas A&M Beef Carcass Research Center wanted to start with the end product, the carcass. They took on the challenge of identifying the rare Prime Yield Grade 1 carcasses and collecting muscle tissue samples to clone a sire and/or dam that will pass on the desirable carcass characteristics.
Tissue samples were collected and tested at a commercial gene marker company to verify that what was seen phenotypically (Prime Yield Grade 1 carcass) at the slaughterhouse matched the DNA markers. The goal was to increase the likelihood of the traits for carcass, growth and feed efficiency would be passed on. The animals that matched both phenotypically and genetically were cultured.
“Interesting, that when they confirmed the animals that had both the phenotypic traits and the gene markers for growth, feed efficiency and carcass traits, it narrowed the percentage of animals eligible to be cloned to 0.006 percent of the fed beef population,” explained Robin Salverson, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension Cow/ Calf Field Specialist who attended the Symposium.
Since the project started in 2010, one cloned bull calf (Alpha) and three cloned heifer calves (Gama) have been born from tissue collected from USDA Prime Yield Grade 1 carcasses.
“This project is in its infancy; however, it creates excitement in the livestock industry,” Salverson said. “Can we start moving away from Select and low Choice carcasses to a higher percentage of high Choice and Prime carcasses, which are very lean externally, to meet consumer demands?” The future for this project involves super-ovulating the cloned heifers and inseminating them with Alpha semen. Additionally, testing will be completed for DNA markers for carcass merit and growth efficiency, along with yield and quality grade. Likewise, additional cows will be inseminated with either Alpha semen or another purebred bull to make a comparison. There will be much more to come from this project in determining whether or not the animals are genetically superior animals. — WLJ