Cow herd owners lead power of DNA adding profit to beef

Duane Dailey

Missouri cow herd owners can lead the nation in becoming more productive. There’s change underway in Show-Me beef herds. It combines new scientific knowhow with animal husbandry.

Scientists call it “going from phenotype to genotype.” It’s more than selecting breeding stock on looks. Pedigrees have helped for years. Now that tool gets help from genomics, a calf’s internal DNA map.

New doesn’t displace old. Pedigrees and performance tests are needed. A cow-calf farmer needs management in breeding and feeding. But to boost output and meet consumer demand, DNA science helps.

That new science gets complex. Powerful computers sort and provide genomic guidance. The transition confuses most of us.

But smart people have found how to make DNA sequences more precise. And they get simpler to use. Producers don’t need to know DNA mapping. They just need to know it works.

DNA found in every plant and animal cell guides lifetime growth. The new versions are reduced to indexes told in dollars

Huge advances in breeding are made with artificial insemination. This gives even the smallest cow herd access to the best bull genetics of a breed.

Again, fixed-time AI breeding protocols work. They’ve been farm tested on hundreds of thousands of heifers and cows. All it takes is ability to read and follow new AI breeding protocols.

We need more word people to translate science into plain farmer talk. Modern farming needs ag journalists more than ever. We need writers to explain science to farmers and consumers. That includes teaching scientists. So far scientists can’t talk to each other in plain English, let alone all of us.

If scientists join morning coffee groups in small town cafés and talk farmer talk, we might reach our beef-cow potential for Missouri. And the nation.

Most need to know “Why” not “How.”

Fewer people feed more in our growing population. Not everyone needs to know how, but they need to know that some people can do lots more. Those few need support if the job is to be done. We’re learning better ways every day.

Farmers and consumers must speak up to support their land-grant University research and extension.

What could happen if university leaders joined a coffee club a few mornings? This would not be a “listening session” where the leader does all the talking. This would be a leader learning to listen. After a while, they join the talk by asking questions. Then bring that information back to campus to share.

Back to science. Corn farmers don’t feel they must know genomics of hybrid corn breeding. Plant breeders use genetics. At corn planting time, growers use their latest findings in their seed corn.

Growers of our newest cash-grain crop, soybeans, now use genomics. An MU Soybean Symposium, April 4, at the MU Bond Life Science Center tells more DNA this year. Soy breeders dig deeper into the DNA. Now they can talk of new traits. Recently farmers said in their planting intention reports they’ll plant more beans. DNA may be playing a part. The free program runs 8 a.m. to 4:30.

What if beef farmers gain the same trust in genomics? I heard it from two farmers last week. No one should buy a bull that doesn’t have GE-EPDs. Those genetic enhanced Expected Progeny Differences use knowledge from the DNA map.

Top sire producers already give full details. It’s a giant step toward improved quality beef — and profits. Consumers have left “supply-and-demand economics” behind. They’ll pay for taste. Real taste.

If someone told you that alligator meat tastes like chicken, would you know what an alligator tasted like?

At the best burger joints, you learn the beef in the bun tastes like ketchup, pickle and onion. Consumers go to the prime steak house to discover the taste of beef.

The taste of beef is the future of the beef business in Missouri.

Write your recipe for success to or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203.

(Duane Dailey has been translating science-speak into “farmer talk” for Missouri’s farmers for more than 55 years as a reporter for University Extension. He grew up on a family farm in north-central Missouri near the Iowa border near Mercer, Mo.).