I.F.?s Riverbend Ranch relies on genomic testing

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More than five years ago, Riverbend Ranch managers began using genomic testing, offered through several companies, to strengthen its registered Black Angus bloodlines.

The ranch, which produces bulls for commercial cattlemen, has found the investment in genetic testing has paid off.

The ranch received the 2016 Certified Angus Seedstock Producer of the Year Award from the Certified Angus Beef brand. It also ranks among the 20 largest seedstock ranches nationwide.

“The testing is another tool for genetic evaluation,” said Dale Meek, purebred operations manager at the ranch west of Idaho Falls.

“For us, it’s a management tool to help us decide which animals to keep,” he said. “Not all desirable traits can be categorized in an (expected progeny difference.)”

In the past, ranchers have had to rely largely on outward traits — phenotypes — when making breeding decisions, said Chris Howell, Riverbend’s director of customer service. But with the advances in genetic testing over the past few decades, more accurate decisions can be made based on an animals genes — the genotype, he said.

“They still have to look right prototypicaly,” Howell said.

While beef cattle’s EPDs dealing with such factors as weight and marbling are critical, other factors are important, too.

For example, Riverbend cattle have a reputation for being adaptable to different environments and having strong mothering qualities, Meek said.

As a result of using genetic test information as a factor to make breeding decisions, Riverbend bulls’ EPDs rank in the top 20 percent of the breed for wean weight, yearling weight and marbling. They are in the top 15 percent of the breed for ribeye.

To prepare for the ranch’s annual spring bull sale, “We do genomic testing on nearly all bulls in the sale.”

This year, the annual Genetic Edge Bull Sale is scheduled at the ranch at 11 a.m. on March 10. More than 500 bulls will be sold, including 250 fall 2-year-olds and 250 spring yearlings.

For many ranchers, the cost of genomic testing is prohibitive, Meek said, so they rely on producers like Riverbend that have already done the testing. It helps cattlemen decide what cattle to buy and what specific traits they want to introduce into their herds.

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