In recent times I have been talking a few breeders through the merits of data collection and Breedplan, sometimes more successfully than others. One of the key areas of misunderstanding is accuracy – how does it work and what role does it play? If you think I’m about to tell you how to suck eggs, please bear with me, I think I have a couple of examples that makes sense.

Firstly an EBV is an estimated breeding value, and the more information that goes into the system, the closer to the true breeding value the EBV will become. So yes, the EBV will change over time as information is assessed and reveals the merits of the animal in question.  The accuracy of that EBV gives a guide as to how much data supports it. High accuracy means lots of data, low accuracy not much data. The change over time from the analysis of data is the important part. Some of the best examples of changes in breeding value come from the world of Thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Thoroughbred breeding is a data-rich situation, and performance data affects an individuals’ value.  Let’s look at two horses by the same sire, born a year apart, and evaluate them from a yearling, through their race career to the breeding barn. Meet Zoustar and Wanjina.

As a yearling Zoustar was an athletic, well-made individual with moves like Jagger. Wandjina was an adonis, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. Zoustar fetched $150,000 at the Magic Millions yearling sale, and Wandjina sold for a cool $1,000,000 at Easter in Sydney. At this point in time Wandjina is the winner. The market, based on pedigree and type, assessed him to be worth six times that of Zoustar. But the story doesn’t end there.

Both go on to exceptional racing careers. Wandjina’s peak performance was a victory in the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas over a mile, dubbed by many as a sire-making race. Zoustar won the Group 1 Coolmore Stakes at Flemington over 1,200 meters. Wandjina’s race career ended with about $650,000 in earnings, Zoustar amassed $1,381,000. Tick Zoustar.

Off to stud they both go. Wandjina to Newgate, at a service fee of $20,000, and Zoustar to Widden, with a service fee of $40,000. The evaluation of their race careers, pedigree and type by the market now assessed Zoustar to be worth twice as much as Wandjina – pretty much in line with their racetrack earnings. But again, this is not the end of the assessment.

Fast forward six years to 2023. Wandjina gets plenty of winners but not too many at the top end, whereas Zoustar is a star. Winners galore, and oh my goodness, they are quick. How do we empirically assess stallions as breeders? Earnings per runner and average yearling sale price.

Average Earnings Per Runner Wandjina $25,984
Zoustar $114,130
Average Yearling price 2023 Wandjina $20,000
Zoustar $455,000

Imagine that as a breeder you hadn’t assessed any data since the yearling sale, and you still labored under the misapprehension that Wandjina was six times as good as Zoustar. The bank balance would not be great. We would all prefer to sell half a dozen Zoustars instead of half a dozen Wandjinas.

Initial data on weights and ultrasound scans in cattle are like the race results – it’s a piece of information, not all the information, but it often points you in the right direction. Just as it did with Zoustar. Progeny data in cattle is like progeny data in Thoroughbreds – it gives a more complete and accurate picture as to the breeding value of an individual. And that, ultimately, is one of the key ideas behind performance recording, whether it be cattle, horses, chickens, pigs or dogs, it’s about identifying the breeding value of an animal. The other purpose of a performance recording program is to use the genetic lottery to breed better animals that are to be identified through performance recording.

How do you know who the better animal is, even if they are full siblings? Which one won the genetic lottery? You find out by testing them. The most comprehensive way is progeny testing. Analyzing the performance of progeny reveals the truth, as it did with Zoustar. Prominent in Zoustar’s pedigree is the immortal Danehill. Danehill was by Danzig out of Rayzana, and was line bred 3 x 3 to the blue hen Natalma. He was a great success and had three full brothers who also went to stud. An easy analysis is looking at their progeny earnings.

Te Mooi Speckle Park. The importance of performance recording.

Super sire Danehill

Sire Sire’s progeny earnings
Danehill $422,000,000
Eagle Eyed $6,700,000
Nuclear Freeze $5,700,000
Anziyan $4,100,000

Danehill won the genetic lottery, but you wouldn’t have known who was who before they were tested on the racetrack or the breeding barn. By not testing individuals and their progeny you don’t know if you are heading in the right direction. Testing and data analysis enables you to adjust your approach so that you get closer to attaining your breeding goals. You might have started with Eagle Eyed, but if you respond to the data you jump to the Danehill train. You won’t be stuck using the full brother and heading down the road to nowhere.

The legacy of using those that won the genetic lottery is what makes a breeding program. The influence of elite producers lasts generations. Danehil’s influence in the Thoroughbred industry is incalculable. Six of his sons have produced more than 100 stakes winners, and his grandsons and great-grandsons are now on the job. Identifying the genetic lottery winners is the key to success, and the only way to do that is to crunch the numbers. If you don’t, and you only assess pedigree and type, you can be stuck with Wandjina and Eagle Eyed, instead of basking in the glory of Zoustar and Danehill.