Throughout human existence it has been our nature to push the envelope. More speed. More power. More performance. Ingenuity combined with trial and error spawn new peaks in technology.
As we strive to stay ahead of the technological advancement curve, we sometimes forget about the interconnected systems that might need time and adjustment to catch up. Too much torque and the transmissions or drivelines wear out easily. Increases in output translate into greater input requirements and higher priced fuels. At some point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in, making that next increase to performance or production too costly and economically inefficient. Much of the same can be said of beef genetics.
It is amazing how much progress our industry has made in genomics in such little time. Genetic improvement is absolutely vital for every segment of our industry because it helps promote multiple elements linked to sustainability. However, producers need to be mindful of the inevitable trade-off that comes with a rapidly accelerated discovery curve.
Decades ago, the push for performance was inadvertently tied to frame. Mature size and calving difficulties almost singlehandedly devastated the marketability of many breeds. Though unintended, the consequences were still significant. It is no different than the push for muscle cars with powerful stances and large throaty motors that also guzzled fuel by the gallon.
Oddly enough, we have corrected cow size, yet cow maintenance or input cost remains a common issue. If you install a high performance racing engine in a car, it will require a grade of fuel of equal magnitude to perform up to it’s potential. Cheap, poor quality fuels simply won’t do. The same is true for your cowherd. If you continue to select for growth and milk genetics, be prepared to adjust the feed input requirements that will follow. Our push to discover that next elite genetic package is changing the beef herd from independent foragers to concentrate dependents.
There are other phenotypic systems that desperately need to catch up with a hastily advancing genotype population. Evidence of this can be seen in the national beef herd by simply looking at their feet. The push to discover cattle that can be marketed as the next top genetic package for extreme calving ease, growth and marbling, is creating a significant gap in animal soundness.
As technology continues to expedite the genetic discovery process, this gap might only get bigger.
Unintended consequences, arise under the strain of scientific and economic achievement. It will take time and discipline to bring traits like soundness up to speed.
I am by no means making an argument against genetic advancement. On the contrary, I am a firm believer in improvement and making wise use of all genetic selection tools. I simply see the road to change is not straight and narrow. It winds and turns with plenty of peaks and valleys, as well as, the occasional switch back. As a breeder, you need to understand the trade-offs that come with accelerated genetic selection. Can you afford to add that next unit of performance or milk? Or, should you keep pace just behind the curve and capture value as the rest of the systems catch up?