Genetic Selections Indexes: Is Equal Value Created?

( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

By Justin Fix, Director of Genetics for The Maschhoffs

Those with significant exposure to genetic indexes understand you are not able to directly compare indexes across product lines, within or between genetic suppliers. Often the traits included in the indexes are different and even if they are the same, the economic weightings likely differ. This is especially true for terminal lines, where there are varying levels of focus on commercially derived crossbred traits. The question we continue to seek to understand is: How much value is created between and within a given index? 

If we believe in genetic progress, which I personally do, we should believe that on average a higher indexing boar would generate more value than a lower indexing boar. My intent is not to dispute that, my intent is to urge commercial producers to understand if the extra they pay actually generates a return on the added cost.   

Make no mistake, genetic companies are making progress in their terminal populations. However, there are varying degrees of success in translating this nucleus level gain into commercial level value. It is important to understand, in your own system, how much value is actually realized. With that said, we would strongly urge, at a minimum, an effectively designed and implemented sire line trial platform in your system. This data will help you make the correct decision regarding which sire line works best for you. 

As customers of genetic suppliers, we must believe genetic programs are working and indexes are driving progress in the traits that bring the users the most comprehensive value. However, the real question is who is making the most genetic progress and where do their indexes cross in value generated? Not only are there many terminal genetic products available, but many genetic suppliers offer different products within a sire line. The exact pricing varies by supplier and customer, but these could approach a 100% increase in genetic royalty for higher indexing boars. This is what I urge more people to focus on, understanding the value creation within the distribution of a specific index.

In the Maschhoffs R&D program, we average two sire trials per year. In these trials, we do one of two things: 1) make single-sire matings and pen by sire, or 2) request pooled semen from high versus low indexing boars and pool by treatment. These trials are not easy to set up, as they require additional attention to detail in the breeding barn and wean-to-market facilities capable of testing enough pens to generate power to detect economic, biological and ultimately statistical differences. Despite these additional challenges and even costs, we firmly believe understanding these indexes at a more intimate level is worth the additional investment.  

What value have these trials generated for The Maschhoffs? Over the course of using these trial designs, we have made several big decisions concerning our terminal line. We switched sire lines within a supplier’s portfolio, changed genetic suppliers and we even developed our own terminal line. It does not stop there, as this data has helped us with the transition process. We did not simply replace one line with another but understood what index threshold we needed to ensure the value was realized. 

As Director of Genetics, Justin Fix and his team oversee the day-to-day functions of the genetic program. This includes maintaining relationships with strategic genetic suppliers and oversight of the internal genetic program (genetic evaluation, genetic data management system and reproductive platform). 

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