S1064: Genetic improvement of adaptation and reproduction to enhance sustainability of cow-calf production in the Southern United States

(Multistate Research Project)

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The Southern region (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, OK, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA) of the United States accounts has 11.8 million beef cows (40% of the nations beef cow inventory; USDA, 2014). This region has environmental constraints that require animal adaptation to hot, humid conditions, reduced forage quality, and parasitic loads. Producers have used American Brahman to provide adaptation, as highly productive cattle of European origin lack adaptation to these conditions. However, there are production challenges associated with the use of Brahman, including low production and fertility as purebreds, oscillating (year to year) reproduction rates as young cows, and substandard and variable beef quality. Improved beef cow fertility is desired throughout the Southern Region in most herds. These problems could easily expand to temperate (at the present time) areas contingent upon the extent and severity of changing climatic conditions (Field et al., 2014).

Two broad areas of improvement that would greatly benefit cow-calf producers in this region include: 1) improvement of production and reproduction of Brahman, and 2) improvement of adaptation in cattle of European origin. On a much broader scale, these improvements can be applied to other U.S. and many global regions. These efforts would impact several SAAESD Priority Areas, including Goal 1 (an agricultural system that is highly competitive in the global economy) and several of its priorities including Integrated and sustainable agricultural production systems, Value-added plant and animal genes in conventional breeding and molecular biology, and Health and well-being of food animals, as well as Goal 4 (greater harmony between agriculture and the environment) and its priority of Integrated pest management systems, including biologically-based tactics. This proposed project fits into these priorities particularly well as increased productivity in tropical and subtropical regions of the world is critical to increased global food security. Most of the funded beef cattle work addresses production in temperate areas and is not concerned with adaptation. Most individual university-based research in the South has been curtailed due to the limiting budget environment, including reduction of beef cow research populations. Failure to address this results in inefficient use of a substantial amount of forage resources in the Southern Region that are not suitable for human food crop production, and a large group of producers with little research support for activities important to their productive and economic well-being.

It is appropriate to approach such issues from a multi-state perspective primarily to fully exploit the increasingly limited resources available for research at individual locations; this is especially important from a genetic perspective, as combined sample size facilitates appropriate hypothesis testing. Key areas of beef cattle production system efficiency such as adaptability and reproduction, including their component traits, need to be assessed in the different sub-environments within the region. These traits are the least characterized in beef cattle research, especially among those types and breeds of cattle in the region; results will therefore have potential for impact in similar areas of the world extending into the tropics. This multi-state project will also facilitate the cellular and molecular scientific characterization of these traits, and provide for unique research resources that can be utilized to study numerous scenarios that impact sustainable beef production in the US. It is also likely that these resources will attract potential for additional research partnerships beyond the Southern Region, including international possibilities. Additionally, capitalizing on the multi-state groups extension resources will allow for wide dissemination of impactful research to a broad geographical area, which will increase the impact of this research on profitability and sustainability of beef cattle operations in the southern United States.

The states comprising the Southern region produce approximately 40% of the cattle that enter the U.S. beef chain, with a large proportion possessing some Brahman inheritance. Breeds of cattle have in many cases changed dramatically, especially in relation to other breeds, since original characterization efforts (Cundiff et al., 2004). Therefore, the proposed Brahman objective serves also as an up-to-date evaluation of current bloodlines and type of Brahman cattle used in the United States today, and will be used then to compare to previous scientific characterization of the breed. Particularly, traits relative to Brahman reproduction have been characterized to a very limited extent, and joint work offers an excellent opportunity to assess reproduction on a whole animal basis and serve as a basis for investigation of component traits of reproduction within the breed.
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