A long term project was started in 2008 to evaluate the production traits of Senepol cattle under a controlled breeding program. Cows are bred to calve in either the spring or fall. Cow weights, condition score and frame score will be collected at breeding, calving and weaning. Cow efficiency and productivity will also be evaluated. Calf data to be collected includes weight at birth, weaning and as yearlings. Calf temperament will be measured at weaning and as yearlings as part of a USDA-CSREES Multistate Research Project (S-1013 Genetic (Co)Variance of Parasite Resistance, Temperament, and Production Traits of Traditional and Non-Bos indicus Tropically Adapted Breeds).
Another project starting in late 2008 is funded by the USDA-NIFA TSTAR program (The effect of hair color and type on heat tolerance, tick resistance and growth rate of cattle under grazing conditions) in cooperation with researchers at the University of Florida. The project will evaluate the impact of coat color and amount of hair on the heat adaptation of Senepol and crossbred cattle. The presence of the slick hair gene in the Senepol will be utilized to produce crossbred calves with varying degrees of hair coat and a variety of colors. Growth, body temperature and ectoparasite burdens will be evaluated in the calves grazing pasture.
Heat stress is a common problem in ruminant production throughout the tropics. Genetic selection has been used to develop breeds that are adapted to the tropical environment. On the island of St. Croix there are two breeds of adapted livestock, Senepol cattle and St Croix White hair sheep. Both of these breeds play a role in the agriculture industry of the US Virgin Islands and the wider Caribbean and Central and South America. Researchers at the University of Florida has identified a single gene (Slick hair) in cattle that is responsible for expression of a phenotype characterized by a short, sleek hair coat and increased heat tolerance as measured by lower rectal temperatures and respiration rates. By assessing surface temperature and sweating rates of tropically adapted breeds of cattle, and the influence of hair coat on sweating rate, we will be able to incorporate this information into the existing database on physiological adaptations to the tropical environment and development of more efficient strategies to employ to alleviate heat stress.