The Faculty of ALES’ world-leading livestock genomic program received an extra boost recently when it received a generous donation.
Retired Senator Dan Hays, a U of A alumnus and rancher, will gift his herd of Hays Converters to the University of Alberta, and make a major donation to maintain and care for the herd. The 100 or breeding females and a representative herd sire group will be housed at the Roy Berg Kinsella Research Station.
“This creates an exciting opportunity to explore different applications of genomics, from management of in-breeding through genomic mate allocation, which is very important for such a small population, to prediction of feed efficiency,” said Graham Plastow, the scientific director of Livestock Gentec, who added the herd will complement the existing herd of 800 beef cattle at the research ranch.
It is quite fitting that the Hays Converters herd will be housed at the Roy Berg Kinsella Research Station. During the 1950s, Roy Berg and Harry Hays set out with a similar vision to improve beef cattle. While Berg was conducting his controversial hybrid breeding programs that resulted in a 30 to 40 per cent increase in production, former Senator Harry Hays developed his own breed.
The man who also served as the federal minister of agriculture from 1963 to 1965 drew on his experience in the dairy and swine industries and the example provided by the poultry sector. He selected from the best available Holstein, Brown Swiss and Hereford genetics available and created Hays Converters, the first Canadian breed recognized under the Canada Livestock Pedigree Act in 1975.
The cattle are known for their fast growth, tolerance to Albertan winters, trouble-free feet, udders and calving, good milk production and fertility.
The herd hasn’t been marketed since 2000 and Hays’ son, Dan, decided he needed to step back to build and gather more performance records to see what he had.
After attending a Livestock Gentec conference in 2010, a research project carried out by MSc student Allison Fleming analyzed growth rates, ultrasound as well as carcass traits and the management of genetic diversity or inbreeding in the herd.
“The results Allison obtained and the ongoing research with the herd at Kinsella will drive the next decisions for the breed,” said Hays who is very pleased the herd his father developed will become part of the Kinsella beef project to develop a more efficient and sustainable Canadian beef industry.