Breeding objectives are goals for specific traits that can be influenced through selection. Breeding objectives are unique to a beef operation and can change over time if needed. A breeding objective may be to increase, decrease or remain the same for a specific trait within the suite of traits important to the operation. When determining breeding objectives, it is important to take other factors into consideration such as marketing plan, management level, replacement strategies and environmental conditions. Breeding objectives should focus on Economically Relevant Traits, however, traits of convenience, aesthetics or improved quality of life can be included. If improved profitability of the operation is the primary breeding objective, then a well-structured economic selection index may be the best selection tool option.
The development of a breeding program is often characterized as a series of steps from describing the breeding objective to how genetic improvement will be disseminated throughout the industry. For example:
- Formulate the breeding objective (what we want to improve);
- Define the selection criteria and build an Index;
- Design an animal evaluation system (genetic evaluation – using phenotypes, pedigree information and genotypes to predict genetic differences between animals);
- Design selection and mating strategies for animals who will reproduce; and
- Design system for dissemination of terminal beef genetic improvement from the nucleus to the commercial animals.
In a more simplified manner, if we can answer the following three questions, we are well on our way to designing and implementing a well-structured and sustainable system:
- Where are we?
- Where do we want to go?
- How will we get there?
The first question provides the opportunity to evaluate our production system to identify inefficiencies that may be hindering our ability to be profitable. The second question provides the opportunity to identify how we might disseminate genetic improvement for long-term sustainable improvement. It is the third question that will help us develop the road map to our destination. The road map includes identifying the traits in our breeding objective, how we will evaluate potential breeding animals for genetic merit, what selection criteria we will use to choose candidates, and how we will mate them to maximize genetic improvement. The important point is that formulating a breeding objective and choosing how we will base selection are intimately associated with our genetic evaluation.