Accurate recordkeeping – an essential part of genetic improvement

Prof Frikkie Neser

Frederick Wilhelm Cornelius Neser is a professor in Animal Breeding at the University of the Free State in South Africa. He is the author of 350 scientific and popular scientific publications and received the David Uys trophy for the best article published in the South African Journal of Animal Science in 1996 and 2015. In 1999 he was awarded a medal from the South African Society of Animal Science for an outstanding research project and in 2003 and 2007 he received awards from the UFS for outstanding research. He also received several awards from the livestock industry for outstanding services rendered and research done.

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Accurate recordkeeping is an essential part of any business. The business owner depends on the records to know whether he is making a profit, to keep a tab on his expenses, to know which stock to replenish and which products are nearing their sell-by dates. To make informed decisions a complete and accurate set of records are needed.

Buffalo Recording Sheet

The animal breeder uses a similar set of records that is more biologically oriented. The profit part can be described as the animal’s output. This can be fertility, live weight, growth, milk production or even horn length. Expenses can be classified as input traits, like feed intake, net feed intake or feed conversion ratio. To replenish stock is to buy in new genetic material and when products are nearing their sell-by dates, it means it is time to cull old and unproductive animals.

During stock take the entire stock within a store is counted and recorded – almost the same process is followed when it comes to animal breeding. Recording and performance testing should be done on the whole herd and not just on a few individual animals. A shopkeeper normally buys his stock on the basis of affordability, quality and the possibility of making a profit or, in animal breeding terms, one cannot select an animal on only one trait. One needs to look at the total package – in other words, a whole set of traits. These traits include both fitness (fertility, scrotal circumference, mothering ability and adaptation) and production (growth, body weight, milk production and horn length). The relationships between these traits are also just as important. Too much emphasis on one trait, for instance production, can lead to negative effects on more important traits, especially fitness traits.

A shopkeeper usually stocks more than one brand of a certain product. Likewise the animal breeder must ensure he maintains genetic diversity and prevents inbreeding. This he can do by utilizing DNA testing for parentage and thus making sure that related animals do not breed. Correct parentage is also one of the key elements used in determining breeding values for an animal. In a shop similar products are kept together on the shelves. A similar concept called contemporary grouping exists in animal breeding and is essential for comparing animals. This means that in order to group animals together one needs to know all external factors which could influence their performance such as date of birth, birth status, sex, age of dam, and measuring date.

Every business owner also knows that all records should be kept either in a set of books in a save place or on a computer program with several backups in different places. The same principle applies to the animal breeder. Luckily there are several excellent recordkeeping programs available to the farmer to ensure data is safe and easily accessible. It also makes it easy for a scientist to extract the data in order to estimate breeding values and perform other tasks with the data.

The Wildlife Stud Services system is based on an adapted version of the International Livestock Registry system (ILR2) for wildlife with a built in pedigree- and wildlife performance testing system (e.g. horn length, live weights, reproduction traits etc.). The WS2 system allows you to keep accurate records, evaluate and manage animals in your breeding herd.

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