PhD. Milton Thomas has noticed some interesting developments in animal science over the past few years, particularly new technologies that have provided more data on developmental traits and grazing behavior in beef cattle.
Thomas, a Texas A&M professor at Beeville Extension, will speak at the Wednesday luncheon at the 2022 South Texas Farm and Ranch Show.
Over the past 100 years, humans have learned how to raise cattle by increasing their understanding of the underlying developmental traits that animals may have, Thomas said.
Developing sustainable cattle is the goal of today’s producers, so figuring out how animals can become more fertile is key, Thomas said. There are a few things people can do to improve sustainability.
“I use breeding values,” Thomas said. “There is a tool called expected progeny difference that can be used to predict various things like feed efficiency. That information is published in the catalog.”
Professor A&M said EPD values for other traits associated with cattle, such as methane production, reproduction and grazing behaviour, were continuing to evolve.
Part of the reason for the use of EPDs in the beef cattle industry is improvements in location monitoring technology. GPS-equipped ear tags provide information about where animals graze.
“The batteries in the ear tags are tiny,” Thomas said. “These animals used to have to wear large collars. You can use Wi-Fi and cellular data to track ear tags, and then you can download the collected data to a computer.”
Evaluating GPS data helps cattlemen understand where each animal likes to hang out.
“There are hilltops, and then there are bottom dwellers,” Thomas said. “GPS data helps us understand where overgrazing and overgrazing is likely to occur.”
GPS can track the animal’s location every 10 minutes, Thomas said. Real-time compiled data is becoming more common every day.
“There’s been tremendous effort in monitoring movement, and we’ve also been able to better understand cattle genetics with new technology,” Thomas said. “This kind of data was difficult to obtain before.”
The recent incorporation of genomics into cattle research is also important, Thomas said. The researchers collected DNA samples containing thousands of genotypes. Genotypes can reveal how much an animal will grow and whether it is resistant to disease.
“It’s like 23andMe for animals,” Thomas said.
The progress made over the past 10 years may not stop anytime soon.
“Eventually there will be an app where you can access location tracking data on your phone,” Thomas said.
Leo Bertucci is a member of the US reporting team, covering energy and the environment for Victoria Advocate.