Blog @ Illumina
Real scientists. Real commentary.

Cattlemen and Surprises Don’t Mix

Linda Seaton
| Aug 12, 2014

Cowhands driving cattle in the American frontier of the late 19th century had an unwritten code. Never steal another man’s horse, remove your guns before sitting at the dining table, and when approaching someone from behind, give a loud greeting before you get within shooting range. Sounds like cattlemen in the Old West didn’t like surprises.

It turns out that they still don’t. When Three Trees Ranch General Manager Dick Beck began leveraging genetic selection on his ranch ten years ago, it had everything to do with eliminating surprises. Genotyping with Illumina BovineSNP50-based tools enables him to evaluate every cow and bull, at any age. With high-accuracy genomic data, he can identify trait levels in baby heifers and bulls that would previously have taken 10 years to see. Partnered with in vitro fertilization techniques, genetic trait information has shortened the generation interval and increased the pace of beneficial genetic change in his herd.

If another rancher wants to sell Three Trees Farms the genetics (sperm or egg) of one of their herd animals, Dick won’t even consider it unless the animal has been genetically profiled. As he put it, “we’re no longer in the gambling business. We’re in the predictability business, and we think genomic tools give us that predictability.”

This article is from the iCommunity Newsletter, an online publication about, for, and by the Illumina community. iCommunity provides you with in-the-field research news, the latest in product developments, and perspectives in and around Illumina.

Have a story that you would like to share, or feedback on these articles? Email us at