Ostrich Genetics

Newsletter No 59 - Item 1 & Item 2

The meat market is highly competitive and never more so than today, with rapidly increasing ingredient prices that make excellent feed conversion ever more important.  Previously we have discussed the tremendous efficiencies that have been experienced with main stream livestock production species that have contributed to their ability to produce meat cost effectively.  In fact these efficiencies have enabled meat to be available to many more people.   This was achieved by tremendous improvements in nutrition, feed management and farm management.  This has enabled the true genetic ability of the animals to develop.  We can name such companies as Cobb, Genus, JSR, Aviagen, Ross, PIC as examples of companies that specialise in developing the genetics to provide farmers with animals to suit the current market demands.  In recent years these genetic companies have amalgamated in a similar manner that the feed companies and other technology companies have done.

Studying the major genetic companies highlights an interesting and relevant point – that they are dominated by pig and poultry industries, but there are a number of ruminant companies specialising in AI and embryo transfer.

This newsletter will focus on Genetics as they apply to ostrich.

In this context, FCR is Feed Conversion Ratio.

A short quote from an extremely interesting article at  thepigsite.com:

Genetic Gains - FCR Should Be The Focus
By Jane Jordan, ThePigSite Editor. As feed costs continue to rise pig producers are trying to squeeze every scrap of growth and performance from their herds - which is not easy given the many variables involved in producing a quality carcases.

Genetic progress is vitally important, but it's often compromised when the going gets tough. What should producers be considering for their breeding programmes to maximise efficiency?

Ed Sutcliffe, Technical Director at Yorkshire-based breeding company ACMC, says feed efficiency (FCR) should be the priority for any pig business.

"Producers should be considering the same criteria whether they have a high-health herd or disease challenged stock. When selecting genetics for use in the current climate it's vital that the breeds used have a history of being selected for feed efficiency," he explains.
He says producers should be asking two key questions:

Does the genetics supplier consider feed efficiency important enough to actually measure feed intake and efficiency at nucleus level and on an individual basis?

Can the breeding company demonstrate ongoing improvements in feed efficiency and growth rate?
End Quote

With the Ostrich industry developing globally, but no consistent slaughter market, there has been little or no genetic improvement programmes yet in place with ostrich.  Success has been measured in the ability to keep chicks alive and few pay attention to Feed Conversion and days required to finish a bird.  To add to the confusion, dealers refer to birds as Red, Blues or Blacks.  Dr. Mike Jarvis presented the following table to clearly identify different genetics, indicating that there are many more than 3 sub-species.


Table 1 - Summarised differences between ostrich races.
Data from Brown et al(1982, Jarvis (1991) and Jarvis (unpublished data)

Missing from the table is the Australian Grey.  Note also the very low live weights that many have proven can be exceeded.  However, it does illustrate that some breeds do not have the same genetic ability to gain weight as others and this is an important factor.  Of course it is only possible to establish the true genetic traits once we not only eliminate the current symptoms of malnutrition causing stunted growth, but also provide sufficient nutrients to enable the true genetic traits to flourish.

The article goes onto discuss the need for producers to understand the requirements of the processors:
Quote:  "Processors want to ensure they have the best pigs to suit their system and retail customers. It surprises me that producers change their genetics without consulting their customer - the processor," says Dr Walling.

JSR has spoken to a number of processors on this issue and has found that of the three major UK processors they only knew of three producers that had contacted them prior to changing the boar lines.

"Can you imagine a company like Heinz deciding to change the type of beans in their cans without any customer research? Those keeping pigs should keep one eye on their customers' requirements," he advises. End Quote

Processors we have spoken to prefer birds with larger muscles, as found on birds with 70kgs carcasses as they are more usable.   As an industry we are fortunate that we are at the beginning of the genetic development and improving the FCR is the first place to cut the costs of production and overcome the increasing price of grain.

We have to look at the successful specie as examples, until our own industry commences serious genetic work.  Another article references 8 points to consider, two points illustrate the importance of genetics, just how tight margins are today and the important part genetics play in improving efficiency and profit margins.

Quote: “Will it deliver product that my outlet wants – optimising sale weight on a specific contract?

There are many modelling systems available to identify target sale weights – it is useful to check regularly as circumstances will change. If feed is say £180/t and food conversion efficiency (FCE) in the final finishing stage is say 3:1, than the cost of adding an extra 5kg to your sale weight (3.75kg deadweight) will be £2.70.

If this is a marginal value, and all other costs are covered, at a market price of say 105p/kg a 78.75kg carcase will deliver an £3.94/pig advantage compared with a carcase finished to 75kg. Alternatively, the extra slaughter value can spread fixed costs over more weight to reduce the impact of costs per kg. Cash flow may be an issue to fund the extra growth, but the value is still there and if the pig is achieving the heavier weight in the same time then the cash impact should be minimal.

However, if you want to target a carcase weight above 75kg it is important that you make sure your sireline has been selected to maintain high growth rates above 100kg liveweight. Piétrain breeds traditionally slow down markedly above 100kg liveweight, so finishing at 75kg deadweight may be the most efficient target for progeny of these sirelines. End quote

Quote: “Look for a track record – establish what performance can be achieved, realistically. Genetics is perhaps three per cent of costs, of which perhaps up to a half will be sireline genetics. So, if the cost of production is say 120p/kg, then the sireline genetic cost per pig at 75kg deadweight is about £1.35p. An extra 50g growth per day is likely to be worth £1.50/pig and an improvement of 0.08 in FCE could be worth £1.30/pig.

When times are hard make the genetics work - it may not be one of the largest costs, but producers should ensure that they are earning the most value from it. The cost of genetics is unlikely to make the difference between a business sinking or swimming, but the right genetics certainly can. Think carefully before making a change.

It is not possible within a genetic selection programme to make changes instantaneously. So if you want it all... and you want it now... then look for established sirelines with a proven record that are delivering now, yet have further potential for the future”.

In contrast, The Agricultural Research Council (article no longer availabe) in South Africa makes this statement when discussing genetics of ostrich and is another clear indication that the SA Ostrich industry to date has paid no attention to traditional production agriculture economics:

Quote: A private breeder funded the purchase of a set of seven microsatellites for ostriches. The microsatellites were selected after consultation with ILRI (Dr. Kimwele). All the markers showed high levels of variation that make them ideal for parentage determination and genetic variation studies. Although this service is rendered at this stage only to a single breeder, it is hoped that the service can be expanded to the entire ostrich industry. It is also the first attempt to combine genetic information with a breeding policy for ostriches. End quote

This is part of a document discussing genetic tracking in several specie and feed conversion, meat yields and other measures of efficiencies are not mentioned during the discussions.

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