Traits of economic importance in cattle


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One of the first steps in developing a breeding programme is to consider which phenotypic traits are of importance. From a practical standpoint, traits with a measurable or at least readily recognizable economic value are generally to be given the most emphasis, although traits that provide a less tangible utility for cultural or other reasons may also be considered important. The economic traits are typically those that affect either the income obtained or the costs of production.

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In the South Asia Pacific region (SAP), the sale or home consumption of milk, meat, dung, and skin of the animals and the sale of surplus animals for breeding and meat are the main sources of economic returns of cattle and buffalo farmers. In addition, many farmers use themselves or rent out their animals for draft purposes, either providing an additional source of income or saving the costs of contracting out for these services. Some of the important traits that need to be included currently for both dairy and beef cattle and buffaloes are listed in Table 1.

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PRODUCTION TRAITS Traits associated with income are typically called production traits. For dairy cattle and buffaloes, these traits are those that are associated with milk production. In most of the countries in the SAP, farmers are paid according to the kilograms of milk sold, so milk yield is obviously a trait of high economic importance. When milk is sold in a formal market, the price paid per kilogram may be adjusted based on concentrations of milk solids.

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Fat content is almost always considered under such a system, but payment for protein or solids-not-fat is becoming increasingly common. The milk of buffaloes is priced 1.5 to 2 times than cow milk due to its greater concentration of milk solids(17 to 19% versus around 13%) and in certain areas it may be mixed with cow milk to increase the thickness of cow milk and, in turn, improve its market acceptability.

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For beef cattle, economic value of a cow or buffalo is logically based on the amount of meat expected to be obtained from the animal. In contrast to industrialized countries, the sale price is not always based on formally weighing the animal and paying a certain price per kilogram. Rather, the animal is often priced as a whole. Nevertheless, larger animals fetch a higher price, so some measure of body weight is of particular importance. Reaching a mature weight as quickly as possible is advantageous, so weights at different ages, such as weaning, one year-of-age, and slaughter, can be taken to evaluate growth rate.

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Age at slaughter can also be used to account for growth rate; younger animals would be favoured. Birth weight is also often considered important for beef cattle, but largely for calving difficulty rather than production, so smaller birth weight may be preferred. Carcass quality traits can be important for some of the countries in the SAP, but in most cases this variable is not considered in the sale price, so a farmer can not economically justify considering it in a selection goal.

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Traction is also an important output of cattle and buffalo in the SAP. Animals with long legs, straight barrels and tight skin are generally assumed to be stronger and thus favoured for draft purposes. The Bos indicus males with large humps and well-developed dewlaps are preferred because of more dissipation of heat due to a larger surface area and more body reserves for drought periods.

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REPRODUCTION TRAITS Reproduction traits are also important more so in dairy animals. For beef cattle, the number of offspring produced determines the number of animals available for sale. Consistent reproduction is also important for dairy cattle and buffaloes because daily yield is highest in the months immediately following parturition and because longer dry periods (resulting from failure to conceive quickly) result in greater costs for maintenance without any income. Both late age at first calving (AFC) and long intervals between calving, especially in Bos indicus cows and riverine buffaloes, have been often cited as constraints to profitability in cattle farming in the SAP.

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ANIMAL HEALTH Animal health is important for a number of reasons. First, sick animals require costs for treatment. Healthy animals also tend to produce more meat and milk and reproduce more regularly. The climatic conditions of many of the SAP countries can be demanding, with high temperatures, both extremes in precipitation and high risk for disease, so animals that are naturally resistant to problems associated with these adverse conditions are of high value.

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MANAGEMENT Traits associated with management may also be worth considering. Increased longevity is important for a number of reasons. If their animals live longer, farmers can have the opportunity to sell excess animals or expand their herds, both of which would increase the potential for income. Increased longevity also allows for more opportunities for genetic selection. Because disease often leads to death or culling, the animals that live the longest are often those most resistant to health problems. For many indigenous cattle breeds, the presence of or suckling by a calf is necessary to ensure milk let-down. The milk consumed by the calf can obviously not be sold.

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In truth, this may not result in much waste, inasmuch as the milk consumed can improve both the health and growth rate of the calf, but selecting for milk let-down without this source of stimulation would at least allow farmers to choose between selling the milk and feeding it to the calf. Calving difficulty can cause losses to both the calf and the cow, so this trait may be important, especially when crossing with exotic breeds with larger body sizes than indigenous breeds or with known dystocia problems. Temperament is important in any situation where interaction with humans is critical, especially when animals are used for draft purposes or when animals must be milked regularly.

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PHYSICAL APPEARANCE Finally, different aspects of physical appearance may be important. As already mentioned, body size is important for both beef and draft purposes. Coat colour or traits of the horns may be of importance for traditional or cultural reasons and thus may affect the market value of an animal. Udder traits may be associated with milk production, resistance to mastitis or ease of milking .

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Although Table 1 divides traits into dairy and beef or draft, some overlap may occur. This is already obvious in the fact that some traits, such as those related to reproduction are listed in both columns. In addition, sale of male dairy animals can be a significant source of income and some animals may be used for draft purposes. The relative importance of these traits will be different in different areas and is important in determining the final breeding objectives.



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