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New program brings low-cost DNA marker technology to the masses

Up to now, genetic DNA markers to pinpoint cattle that are good in high yearling weights and other valuable traits have been mostly for purebred producers. The $100 per head or higher cost to get a DNA analysis meant that this emerging technology was reserved for elite breeders.

But now, a genetic marker program has been introduced for the masses. It comes from Certified Angus Beef, and is called GeneMax. For $17 per animal, you can have young heifers and bulls of pure or high Angus percentage tested for the two most important economic traits: marbling score, which mostly determines carcass quality grade; and yearling weight, the best fast-growth indicator.

GeneMax was introduced this week at the National Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville.

To use the program, you order sample cards from CAB (, or call 1-330-345-2333). When they arrive, you collect a blood sample on it from the ear of animals you want to test. Send the samples in, where they are evaluated by the Pfizer Animal Health DNA marker program. 

Top 10%

What you will get back is GeneMax index score for every animal, and it will be a number from 1-100. The higher the score, the better that animal’s DNA marker for a combination of the two traits – marbling and yearling weight. A 90 or higher index, for instance, will tell you that animal is in the top 10% for those two traits combined. You will also get a breakdown for them individually, on a 1-5 scale. 

While commercial cow-calf producers don’t normally get paid for marbling ability (that happens for feedlots when the cattle are harvested), it could be that technology like GeneMax will let a cow-calf producer market calves as premium products with predictable marbling scores. And of course, that producer will get paid for the superior yearling weights – extra pounds always pay.

Finding good heifers

Paul Dykstra, a beef cattle specialist for CAB, thinks commercial producers may first use GeneMax when selecting replacement heifers. “You may cull the poor do’ers first. Then of the potential replacements left, you could use GeneMax to help you make the final decisions on the ones to keep,” he says.

GeneMax might also be used to benchmark your herd to better monitor progress of some animal lines, or to identify steers of known marbling and growth potential, say CAB officials. 

“It brings DNA marker technology data into an economically viable range for commercial beef producers,” says Dykstra. He emphasizes that the data used to create the index is for Angus genetics, and works well for animals with ¾ Angus blood or higher. Below that, and it won’t be accurate.

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