The productive potential of any animal is defined by its genetic makeup that then interacts with environmental factors eg nutrition, to determine the extent to which the potential is realised.
This productive potential can be measured by observing particular traits. A trait is a production characteristic and can either be positively selected for eg high growth rate, or selected against (negative) eg high birth weight.
Through the selection process, producers identify and prioritise commercially relevant traits in order to meet breeding objectives and market specifications.
Some genetic traits are highly heritable and are readily passed from one generation to the other. In this case, progress can be made quite quickly through selection. Where traits have low heritability, progress is usually slower.
Benefits of genetic improvement
Genetic improvement occurs in a herd when the average genetic merit for a particular trait is moved in a desired direction towards the breeding objectives. One of the main ways to improve productivity is through genetic improvement.
Selecting the right genetics
When selecting cattle for an enterprise, producers should focus on what they are trying to achieve in their breeding program and ensure that this is addressed in the traits they are selecting for. This should be expressed in clear breeding objectives that reflect the target market specifications.
Ongoing genetic improvement
Genetic improvement is cumulative and occurs over many generations. Well considered breeding objectives are essential to maintaining and directing ongoing genetic improvement within a herd.
Gene markers can identify the actual piece of DNA or the genes that affect particular traits. They also provide a means of assessing the true genetic merit of an animal through the identification of individual genes of interest.
Gene marker research is developing and there is progress towards identifying and examining genes that influence a range of important production traits involved with carcase and eating quality, reproduction, environmental adaptation and growth.