WERA1: Coordinating Beef Cattle Breeding Research and Education Programs for the Western States

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

WERA1: Coordinating Beef Cattle Breeding Research and Education Programs for the Western States

Duration: 10/01/2018 to 09/30/2023

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

Food production, particularly beef, in the United States is transitioning from a loose commodity-based system to a system that allows a buyer to make choices based on quality and production characteristics. This knowledge of production or quality is derived from the label. In the Western United States, this type of beef production is a huge challenge as land and forage are highly variable which requires cows with different genetic potentials for optimum production. In addition, beef producers are faced with continually changing market pressures, climate change, drought, and western wildfires which all impact the efficiency of beef cattle production. Furthermore, the beef industry has a segmented infrastructure which makes genetic improvement under variable environmental and economic conditions a very complex issue and limits the ability of the beef industry to produce a uniform product. Genetic improvement tools for beef production have adapted historically to the changing dynamics of this industry. They were initiated with crossbreeding and performance testing programs and have expanded to genetic prediction technologies and multi-breed evaluations. Researchers and breeders play a vital role in the development of tools for producers to understand the technology available to them and to utilize it to effectively improve the accuracy of genetic selection and genetic improvement programs.

The multi-decade history of this committee (WERA1) reveals that its activities impacted genetic improvement of beef cattle in the Western Region of the United States, nationally and internationally. In the past, the committee’s purpose/goal was to develop enhanced methods of genetic improvement using the latest quantitative and molecular techniques to increase the probability of making economically-sound breeding decisions and to disseminate new information to the industry. With evolving technologies and methodologies, the committee needs to continue to strive to achieve this goal as it remains a subject that is substantial. Achieving the goal will only come through the evolution of research and continued testing of its outputs within varied production scenarios. Dissemination of these results through educational efforts is greatly needed for the industry to actually realize the impact of the new tools on genetic improvement. The concept of new tools in beef cattle breeding (such as marker assisted and genomic selection) has been introduced, but many of the tools still require substantial research, development, and educational effort before breeders can adopt and realize a measurable change in their rate of genetic improvement. 

The membership in this committee includes an important expertise-balance of quantitative with molecular and population geneticists that can collaborate and share resources as they strive to achieve their goal. This is in contrast to past committees in which members were primarily quantitative geneticists. Thus, this committee is evolving within the discipline of breeding and genetics and is uniquely suited to provide applied research and education materials to western beef producers that are suitable for their unique production demands and goals. 

The committee also includes a geneticist specializing in wildlife and others who do both livestock and wildlife research. This allows a comparative approach to gain understanding of genetic variation and fitness of wild populations and domestic. Understanding variation among wild populations can provide important insights to comparisons of breeds and lines of cattle (Cronin et al. 2016). In addition, the expertise of the W committee on the topic of genetics and fitness (i.e. performance traits) is extremely relevant to the increasing endangered species issues that affect livestock producers. The W1 committee has contributed to these debates through review of these issues with the quantitative and empirical approach used in cattle performance trait evaluations, and bring rigor to the endangered species issues that are increasingly affecting livestock producers. This will contribute to a more sustainable industry with proper consideration of environmental issues that are dealt with in an empirical and professional manner. 

The beef industry in the Western United States will benefit greatly from activities of this committee through ecologically-sound production systems that are economically viable. The sustainability of these systems will continue to be challenged through consumer preferences, climate change, and economic forces. The work of this committee aims to address these challenges through a multi-institutional approach addressing the critical interactions amongst breeding, genetics, genomics, and collection of important phenotype data to improve sustainability of the U.S. beef industry.


  1. 1. Develop, disseminate, and maintain resources for understanding genetics of beef cattle; specifically, topics of adaptability and retained heterosis.
  2. 2. Integrate quantitative and molecular research tools that contribute to the understanding of genetic prediction procedures and genetic associations among economically important traits and their indicators.
  3. 3. Exchange information, discuss research results, plan new research, examine new developments, discuss future problems, plan cooperative research and share ideas for interdisciplinary involvement in beef cattle breeding in the Western U.S.

Procedures and Activities

WERA1 (W-1, WRCC-1, WCC-1, and WERA-001 in previous years) has a multi-decade history of collaborative research and efforts to relay scientific information to the beef industry. Examples of this work are presented in the committee’s annual report. The committee is prolific in the number of publications, presentations/conference proceedings, and producer outreach/extension/popular press articles. Furthermore, the committee wants to point-out that it also puts forth considerable service effort to breed associations, which includes activity within the organization known as the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF). These efforts include educational presentations as well as membership and consultation to Breed Improvement Committees. The WERA1 group will continue this effort to achieve objective 1. The relationships established by WERA1 allows for the committee members to interact and present technical knowledge to producer organizations. Some specific examples of such activities include presentations to stockgrower groups, presentations at BIF meetings, Cattle Producer Schools and field days, popular press articles, book chapters in Molecular and Quantitative Animal Genetics, Beef Cattle Production and Trade, Encyclopedia of Agriculture and Food Systems, Beef Cattle Production Systems, webinars and Cattlemen to Cattlemen TV episodes.


Additional examples of activities undertaken to meet objective 1 include member participation in several large USDA CAP projects including the Bovine Respiratory Disease Project and the Cattle Feed Efficiency Project. Additional activities under this objective are evidenced by numerous publications on the physiology of economically important traits in livestock including Riley et al. 2014; Dillon et al., 2015; Tizioto et al., 2016; Ng et al., 2015; Neibergs et al., 2014; Saatchi et al., 2014; Boles et al., 2015; Neary et al., 2015a and 2015b, Culbertson et al. 2015; and many others over during the last approval period.

Recent examples of the committee’s ability to achieve Objective 2 (i.e., Integrate quantitative and molecular research tools that contribute to the understanding of genetic prediction procedures and genetic associations among economically important traits and their indicators) are again demonstrated by the publications written by committee members and in the collaborative relationships of committee members. These publications demonstrate that a team of scientists is needed to produce meaningful results when the subject is as complex as economically important traits in beef cattle and livestock. This group produced these multi-disciplinary publications under the scope of the previous petition, this is still a very relevant objective and demonstrates that committee members understand the need to conduct interdisciplinary and multi-institutional research. The WRA1 committee has been directly responsible for integrating molecular and quantitative geneticists into teams for previously funded projects. Work shared at an annual WERA1 meeting set the stage for the development of this projects; These funded projects and publications demonstrate the willingness of the committee members to work as a team. The data included within the scope of this objective is growing exponentially in the research community. Implementation of molecular data into genetic improvement programs continues to be dependent on the ability of quantitative and molecular geneticists to incorporate them into genetic prediction methodologies. This subject is at the forefront of the subject of animal genomics and genetic evaluation. Because of the resources/expertise from the combined committee members, the members are well-suited to conduct collaborative research to further elucidate the monumental challenge of how to use the associations of genotype to phenotype in genetic prediction. 

Objective 3 is one of the most important for this committee. Even though this paragraph appears reiterative, it is important to state that: exchange of information will occur among committee members who are knowledgeable and informed of other members activities will facilitate cooperative efforts in research as has been demonstrated through collaborative publications and jointly funded proposals. Given the recent turnover in committee membership due to retirement and faculty moves, developing these relationships is essential to successful future research. Most importantly, the interactions of the group will foster pooling of resources, more efficient use of resources, and most importantly enhanced productivity of the committee members. To address the recent decline in WERA1 membership due to retirements, the committee has invited >10 individuals from academic and government institutions to become members of WERA1. These potential new members were solicited based on their contributions to the Animal Breeding community and will ensure the continued success and livelihood of the WERA1 committee. Cumulatively, the beef industry in the Western United States and its academic resources are strong and accessible. The premier strength and success of the committee has arisen from discussion and collaboration among its members throughout its multi-decade history.


Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • • Effective outreach and communication to beef producers through peer reviewed publications, bulletins, and direct interactions among beef producers, extension personnel, and scientists. This includes working closely with many breed associations and their members, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and regional cattlemen and Stockgrowers associations.
  • • By developing an integrative and collaborative focus, the group will share resources to efficiently maximize research efforts, training of students and extension personnel, as well as delivery of improved tools to breeders.
  • • Focus on traits such as adaptability and retained heterosis allows for information exchange and review of ongoing research to prevent duplication of efforts which maximizes use of limited research funds.
  • • Involvement in trait focused research encourages cooperative research efforts that require scientists with varied expertise (i.e., quantitative and molecular genetics). • Collaborative/cooperative research efforts involving economically important traits will lead to grant proposal development among committee members.
  • • Information exchange will occur within the committee because of the knowledge of other members academic and research activities. This knowledge will also facilitate cooperative efforts in research as well as student training and extension activities. Comments: Attendance at the annual meeting will also yield detailed planning efforts for workshop/producer training efforts. This direct interaction allows the committee members to effectively discuss how to create programs to aid producer decision making relative to use genetic evaluations and (or) molecular markers for economically relevant and indicator traits. Due to a variety of factors including budget reductions and emphases on molecular technologies, there has been a widespread reduction in support for animal breeding programs across the country. It is critical to maintain working groups such as WERA1 that can integrate traditional animal breeding and quantitative genetics with existing and emerging biotechnology tools for balanced research, teaching and extension programs. Our group provides a unique resource both in animal resources and expertise to complement existing beef cattle research and educational programs as well as producer organizations that utilize breeding and genetic knowledge. It is a long-term goal of this committee to remain active and support the beef cattle industry through our varied contributions.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

The W-1, WRCC-1, WCC-1, WERA 001 committees have historically been very active in extending scientific information regarding the understanding of beef cattle selection and genetics to livestock producers. This committee plans to continue this tradition while expanding its educational activities to be very competitive on a global basis. This committee has experience with this type of educational activity as many of its members work closely with international beef cattle breed associations. Collaboration stemming from this committee has also led to previous coordinated graduate education efforts in animal breeding and genetics (Lewis et al., 2009; Thomas et al., 2012). Examples of WERA1 involvement in industry organizations includes American Simmental Association, International Brangus Breeders Association, Canadian Charolais and Hereford associations, Red Angus Association of America, Washington Cattlemen’s Association, Montana Stockgrower’s Association and numerous international research and producer groups. The WERA1 committee will continue to welcome and include industry members in its annual meetings, such as the Red Angus Association of America. The members of this committee continue to be diligent in getting information to producers through popular press outlets and producer field days in their respective states. It should also be noted that several members of this committee have extension appointments and/or work closely with extension specialists and that the committee as a whole strives to achieve missions of the land grant university system, which is to share the technical information generated from research with students and beef producers. 

Members of this committee have large impacts in the education of both undergraduate and graduate students through animal breeding and genetics courses and beef cattle production courses in the western half of the United States (Table 1). Two members of the committee Thomson and Gonda are involved in efforts to expand resources for undergraduate genetics and animal breeding instructors and are part of a national meeting grant proposal to this end.  In addition, annual meeting time has been allocated to discussing undergraduate and graduate education needs and resources for three of the past 4 meetings.


Before the conclusion of each annual meeting, a chairman, host, and recording secretary are elected for the next meeting. There is no duplication of duties within a year. Participating institutions host the meetings and the site of the next meeting is decided by vote at the annual meeting unless the membership votes to hold the meeting in conjunction with another regional or national meeting in the same timeframe. Twice in the last renewal period the annual meeting was held in conjunction with the Southern regional committee S-1064.  Examples of this deviation include holding the meeting in conjunction with the Beef Improvement Federation or the Western Section of the American Society of Animal Science. The only budget requested for this committee is that the experiment station directors of the states from which members originate support the travel of specified representatives and the administrative advisor to attend annual meetings.

Literature Cited

Cronin, M.A. and V. Leesburg. 2016. Genetic variation and differentiation in parent-descendant cattle and bison populations. Journal of Animal Science 94:4491-4497.

Dillon, J.A., D.G. Riley, A.D. Herring, J.O. Sanders, and R.M. Thallman. 2015. Genetic effects on birth weight in reciprocal Brahman–Simmental crossbred calves. J. Anim. Sci. 93: 553-561.

Lewis, R. M., B. B. Lockee, M. S. Ames, G. C. Marquez, R. M. Enns, J. M. Rumph, T. W. Wilkinson, and E. J. Pollak. 2009. Solving a dilemma in graduate education: Animal Breeding and Genetics Online. J. Anim. Sci. vol. 87. E-Suppl. 2 (Abstract). Pg. 531.

H.L. Neibergs, C.M. Seabury, A.J. Wojtowicz, Z. Wang, E. Scraggs, J. Kiser, M. Neupane, J.E. Womack, A. E. Van Eenennaam, G.R. Hagevoort, T.W. Lehenbauer, S. Aly, J. Davis, J.F. Taylor. 2014. Susceptibility loci revealed for bovine respiratory disease complex in pre-weaned Holstein calves. BMC Genomics 15:1164

T.F. Ng, N. Kondov, X. Deng, A. Van Eenennaam, H.L. Neibergs, E. Delwart. 2015. Viruses associated with bovine respiratory disease identified using metagenomics and a case-control study. Journal Virology doi:10.1128/JVI.00064-15

J.M. Neary, F.B. Garry, T.N. Holt, R.M. Enns, and M.G. Thomas. 2015. The altitude at which a calf is born and raised determines the rate at which mPAP increases with age. J. Anim. Sci. (E-2015-9217; accepted 7/10/2015).

J.M. Neary, F.B. Garry, T.N. Holt, M.G. Thomas, and R.M. Enns. 2015. Mean pulmonary arterial pressures in Angus steers increase from cow-calf to feedlot-finishing phases. J. Anim. Sci. 93: doi:10.2527/jas2015-9048.

M.M. Culbertson, S.E. Speidel, R.K. Peel, R.R. Cockrum, M.G. Thomas, and R.M. Enns. 2015. Optimum measurement period for evaluating feed intake traits in beef cattle. J. Anim. Sci. 93:1-9.

Riley, D.G., C.A. Gill, A.D. Herring, P.K. Riggs, J.E. Sawyer, D.K. Lunt, and J.O. Sanders. 2014. Genetic evaluation of aspects of temperament in Nelore-Angus calves. J. Anim. Sci.  92:3223–3230. 

Saatchi, J.E. Beever, J.E. Decker, H.C. Freetly, S.L. Hansen, H. Yampara-Iquise, K.A. Johnson, M.S. Kerley, J.W. Kim, D.D. Loy, E. Marques, H.L. Neibergs, E.J. Pollak, R.D. Schnabel, C.M. Seabury, D.W. Shike, M.L. Spangler, R.L. Weaber, D.J. Garrick, J.F. Taylor. 2014. QTL, candidate genes, metabolic and signaling pathways associated with growth, metabolic mid-test weight, feed intake and fee efficiency in beef cattle. BMC Genomics 15:1004 doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-1004

Thomas, M. G., G. R. Hagevoort, T. T. Ross, R. M. Enns, H. Van Campen, A. L. Van Eenennaam, H. L. Neibergs, C. Chase, S. V. doindot, N. d. Cohen, and J. E. Womack. 2012. Integrated program for reducing bovine respiratory disease complex (BRDC) in beef and dairy cattle, coordinated agricultural project (CAP): overview of the teaching program. J. Anim. Sci. Vol. 90, Suppl. 3, Pg. 498.

P.C. Tizioto, J.W. Kim, C.M. Seabury, R.D. Schnabel, L.J. Gershwin, A.L. Van Eenennaam, R. Toaff-Rosenstein, H.L. Neibergs, the Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex Coordinated Agricultural Project Research Team, J.F. Taylor. Immunological response to single pathogen challenge with agents of the bovine respiratory disease complex: An RNA-sequence analysis of the bronchial lymph node transcriptome. PlosOne (in press).


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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