dr Milton Thomas noted some interesting developments in the animal science field in recent years, particularly with some new technologies providing more data on the developmental traits and grazing behavior of cattle.
Thomas, a Texas A&M professor at Beeville Extension Station, will be speaking at the 2022 South Texas Farm and Ranch Show Wednesday luncheon.
Over the past 100 years, people have learned to raise cattle by increasing their knowledge of an animal’s potential developmental traits, Thomas said.
Developing sustainable cattle is a goal for today’s producers, Thomas said, so figuring out how an animal can be more prolific is crucial. To increase sustainability, there are a few things people can do.
“I use breeding values,” said Thomas. “There is a tool called Expected Progeny Difference that can be used to predict various things, such as feed efficiency. This information will be published in a catalogue.”
EPD values for other cattle traits such as methane production, reproduction and grazing behavior are being developed, the A&M professor said.
The use of EPDs in the beef cattle industry is being driven in part by improvements in site surveillance technologies. GPS-equipped ear tags provide information about where animals are grazing.
“The batteries in the ear tags are micro-sized,” Thomas said. “The animals used to have to wear large collars. You can use WiFi and mobile data to track the ear tags and then you can download the collected data to a computer.”
By evaluating GPS data, ranchers can find out where which animal prefers to be.
“There’s Hill Topper and then there’s Bottom Dweller,” Thomas said. “GPS data helps us understand where there might be overgrazing and undergrazing.”
Thomas said that GPS can track an animal’s location every 10 minutes. Data compiled in real time is becoming more common every day.
“A tremendous amount of effort has been expended to monitor the movements and we have also been able to better understand cattle genetics through new technologies,” said Thomas. “It used to be difficult to get such data.”
The incorporation of genomics into cattle research has also been a big topic recently, Thomas said. Researchers collect a DNA sample containing thousands of genotypes. The genotypes can provide information about how much the animal will grow and whether it will be resistant to diseases.
“It’s like 23andMe for animals,” Thomas said.
The advances that have been made over the past 10 years may not stop anytime soon.
“Eventually there will be an app that will give you access to location tracking data on your phone,” Thomas said.
Leo Bertucci is a member of the Report for America Corps, which reports on energy and the environment for the Victoria Advocate.