Opinion by Mike Buchanan
Lessons From The Short History of $$ Indexes In Australian FB Wagyu Production
Australian dairy and beef producers have long been enthusiastic about the use of $$ Indexes derived from EBVs that assist with the selection of animals to specific market grids or production targets. Wagyu breeders are no different. For example, in early 2018, the vast majority of Australian FB seedstock advertising supports value claims for animals based on some AWA TCI (Terminal Index) metric.
To say this is controversial in breeding terms is an understatement. But that’s not new: in the Australian FB Wagyu industry, with just two $$ indexes ever (never more than one at any time), $$Indexes have always been controversial. However, today some say that the AWA TCI, standing alone, is a looming ‘killer’ of future fullblood industry sustainability.
How to analyse this ? A simple method is to compare the two AWA $Indexes so far:
AWA’s Fullblood Feedlot Index. Launched in about 2012 and withdrawn a couple of years later, this offered a selection template for a self-replacing fullblood cow/calf operation, producing FB feeders that were intended to be profitable through the chain – for the producer, feedlotter and wholesaler.
AWA’s ‘Terminal Carcass Index’ (originally the AWA FTI – Fullblood Terminal Index). This addresses selection for Terminal breeding (all progeny slaughtered), with profitability measured only at the processor end of the chain. The FTI was launched in 2015 as a temporary measure prior to a technical transition in AWA BREEDPLAN. That transition was to enable the use of ABRI’s BREED OBJECT technology to produce indexes equivalent to other major breeds using BREEDPLAN. Unfortunately the technical transition has been long delayed and the ‘temporary fix’ remains entrenched in early 2018, with some unpleasant consequences, as we shall see.
The FBFI and TCI have identical primary targets – both are tools to help select sires and dams for profitable fullblood feeders. An enormous difference is that the distribution of profit across the production cycle is quite different. A clear similarity is that both are driven primarily by Marble Score EBVs.
- The FBFI apportioned profit opportunity to both breeding and feeding, and also targeted production of good quality breeding cattle, AKA breed development & sustainability. The difficulty was that the FBFI was driven by the now-defunct IMF EBV, which was found to be an inadequate predictor of Wagyu marbling performance.
- The TCI solely targets the production of profitable feeders (with a very heavy bias to marble score), with that profit taken at the end of the chain. Unfortunately, this is not the whole story, because TCI values are arguably ‘corrupted’ by a hidden ‘Adjustment’ in the AWA MS EBV which principally informs the TCI calculation.
So both FBFI and TCI have faulty mechanisms related to marble score performance. The FBFI fault was identified in carcass data correlation to the IMF EBV. The TCI fault is driven by the ‘hidden adjustment’ to the AWA MS EBV, which endows animals killed at lesser days of age with a higher MS EBV than animals killed at the industry-standard 900 days of age – regardless of identical actual carcass marbling performance. The ‘enhanced’ MS EBV value then delivers a grossly inflated TCI value for the animal in question. (See AWA Technical Paper, AWA website).
So what sort of selection/breeding outcome is promoted when breeders adopt such $$Indexes ?
Comparing Breeding and Profitability Outcomes of The FBFI and TCI Indexes
To get a simple snapshot comparison, we use two Breedplan summaries: first being the Top 10 FB Wagyu Sires listing in the FBFI (July 2013) and then a similar Top 10 similar listing for the TCI (January 2018), noting that one animal in the 2013 Index is ‘red wagyu’ and therefore is not used in the comparative averaging below.
Our perspective is that of a typical ‘cow/calf producer’ member who sells either breeder or feeder progeny. So the important phenotype traits are:
- 200 Day EBV: AWA Breedplan has lots of data here. It is usually a good indicator of dam maternal ability. It is also an important economic indicator for cow/calf feeder production, because 200 day performance predicates the amount of time/feed/money required to background progeny to sale weights.
- 400 Day EBV: This coincides with the achievement of sale weights and strong performance here is a good indication of Wagyu cow/calf feeder profitability, because sale is invariably made on liveweight, almost always under 15moa.
Two other traits we can compare:
- It is not clear ‘in the real world’ how accurate this Wagyu BP trait measurement is, but it seems to have reasonable accuracy in specific bloodlines.
- Carcass Weight.
The Comparison Method
The table below illustrates the method. We remove subjective bias by using only numerical data and ignoring sire IDs. We create an average EBV value for each trait within each of the 2013 and 2018 Top 10 $$Index listings, and then compare average trait values between Indexes. By identifying the differences on this trait by trait basis we can ‘visualise’ the (very) different breeding attributes of hypothetical animals that each Index is promoting selection bias towards. You can then decide whether an individual Index is beneficial or detrimental to producer profitability and/or breed futures.
|Production Trait Comparison of Top 10 Sire Av EBV Values By FBFI (2013) & TCI (2018)|
|AWA EBV||200 Day||200 Day||400 Day||400 Day||Milk||Milk||CWT||CWT|
The Breed AV. values, second from bottom, are merely BREEDPLAN data that confirm we are ‘comparing apples with apples’. The ‘Av EBV’ line holds the mission-critical ‘average’ values for each trait over the Top 10 sires in each listing. The Comparison line in the table identifies the %% advantage of one index over the other on a trait by trait basis. So for example, selection to the Top 10 FBFI (2013) in the 200 day growth trait delivers the producer a 50.2% advantage over Top 10 TCI (2018) performance, and so on. As you see, this translates to a huge advantage at sale time (400 day growth EBV), and the production of much better replacement female options (Milk EBV).
If we believe in BREEDPLAN, the overall conclusion is that in breeding to the AWA TCI, a fullblood cow/calf producer is massively worse off than if he bred to the original self-replacing AWA FBFI; and even the feeder/processor is demonstrably worse off in carcass weights. Because of the lack of consistency in Australian fullblood growout and feeding, especially in relation to days on feed/DOAS, and given the ‘adjusted MS EBV’ – there is no proof at all that anyone would be significantly better off as a result of breeding to the current TCI.
The fullblood industry itself is considerably worse off, due to a distorted selection mechanism that promotes inferior animals as breeding replacements.
And therein lies the danger of relying on a single (Terminal Production) $$Index. If it is misunderstood, and used as a ‘whole of breed’ valuation tool – then that indeed can become a ‘Killer Index’.
All data used in this review was drawn from publicaly available documents.