By Lance Bauer, Director of Breed Improvement & Western Field Representative
Since the domestication of animals, humans have been on a quest to improve animals for specific purposes. For example, breeding dogs for hunting or working livestock, as well as developing oxen for work or food. Different methods of improvement have evolved over time with improvements in the areas of science and technology.
Initially animal selection was made based solely on phenotype or visual evaluation. For work purposes, the larger more fit animals were selected and for milk purposes the animals who looked to produce the most milk were selected. This visual evaluation is still a part of the selection process today, but many other tools have been developed to provide more information to the breeder.
Pedigrees were used by people once they realized that animals tended to resemble their parents and other relatives. People selected certain sire and dam combinations to improve the phenotype of their animals. This was the beginning of the use of pedigrees to make breeding selections and improvements.
As there were advancements in the study of genetics and other technologies, there were advancements in the selection of animals. Weight, height and other measurement data sets were collected and these became valuable tools in the selection of breeding animals, eventually leading to the advancement of breeds. It all goes back to the old saying “you can’t improve what you don’t measure”.
It has always been the goal of animal breeders to improve their animals in the most effective and efficient ways possible. A tool that is extremely efficient and has been used for years is Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs). EPDs take into account the pedigree of the animal, the performance of the animal, the performance of the animal’s progeny, and the performance of related animals. This is a valuable tool to use, in combination with structure and conformation, to decide which animals to breed. EPDs are becoming even better with the advancements in the field of genomics.
Since domestication, humans have selected animals based on several factors. However, new technologies have emerged in order to make animal selection more efficient. Using the best tools available is the most efficient way to make improvements in any animal production.
This is the first article in a series that will go into detail on performance data, EPDs and indices. Stay tuned for more information.