Red DNA Testing UA-89935245-1
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Mauldin Classic Herefords

Raising the right size for better efficiency and profit for small farms

DNA testing and the red gene

Technology has made major strides in understanding how to read an animal’s DNA and tell you what it means. If we intend to focus on “red” Lowline Angus, it would seem logical that our small herd would be made up of Lowlines that are likely to give us Red calves even if the dam or sire is black. That could mean that we are placing more importance on the color than on the quality of the carcass produced. That is certainly true.

The reasoning behind focusing on the color genetics is very basic in our case. As of 2015, I am 71 years old and have a total of 10 heifers and cows that will be the total of our Red Lowline Angus breeding program. We are not exactly going to turn the beef industry upside down by creating a dramatically improved animal that is superior to anything in the industry today. We like the red cattle and like polled cattle. The Angus genetics have already proven they produce top quality beef. The Angus breed is one of the most popular beef cattle in the world today. They are known for the high quality of the beef they produce. Here is a list of the benefits of the red color according to several registries that focus on Angus that are red in color.

Cattle ranchers from across the world have focused for over 100 years on improving the Angus breed. Much focus has been placed with several registries to accept the red color, in addition to the current blac, color, in the Angus breed.

Our focus, in our retirement years, is not to try improving on the quality of the current genetics. It is to focus on genetics that have good quality and will help ensure we have the best odds of having red calves from our breeding program.

The charts to the right came from the Red Angus Association of America website. Even though the chart came from an Angus point of view, the Lowline is an Angus and the information is just as good for the Lowlines.

As you can see, DNA can give a lot of good information to breeders related to the expected color that will result from a specific breeding. However, very few breeders publish these DNA results.


The technical terminology surrounding DNA testing for color is much too complex and difficult to try and easily understand for many of us. This article is to try and document my understanding of the topic in a simplified way that helps clarify the subject for me and hopefully others. Although there are technical names for the color components in DNA, I am just going to call them “markers” in order to make it more readable for me and others.

    Referencing the chart above, you will see the use of the letters “B” and “b”. Sometimes they are shown separately and sometimes there will be two letters together. There are different letters used in documents discussing DNA color testing. ED is used instead of “B” and “e” is used instead of “b”. The “e” indicator is sometimes called the “true red gene”.  I will use the ED and e instead of the B and b but it should be fairly easy to look at the chart and translate the B and b to ED and e.

    There is a third type of color marker called the “wild type” that is not shown in the charts. In documents, you will see the marking indicator as “E+”. It is considered a neutral marker. Typically, if the two color markers are (ED, E+), the animal will be black. If the two color markers are (E+,e), the animal will be red.

    The focus of this article is not to state that the “true red” marker is better or worse than the “wild type” marker. They both are associated with a red coat in the Angus and Lowline Angus breed. No research shows that one red color marker has any advantage over any other  carcass characteristics. So “E+, E+”, “E+, e” or “e, e” all produce the same results in the coat color. Some breeders have placed a higher financial value on a Lowline with the true red marker “e” because fewer animals had that marker. However, more and more Lowlines are now having “e” show up in their DNA tests which reduces the “rare” factor.

    “In Angus/Lowline Angus, base color is depends on the markers for black (ED), red (e), and wild-type (E+).

    The American Lowline Registry requires DNA tests to confirm parentage of animals to be registered as fullblood Lowlines. They use the services of Geneseek to do the DNA tests. There is an option to have DNA hair or blood samples to be tested for color and the results of the test is what we want to better understand.

    Each animal has two color markers in their DNA related to determining possible color. One marker comes from the sire and one from the dam. When a calf is born, it will receive one marker from the sire and one from the dam. The combination of the two markers will determine the color possibilities for the calf.

    Black is the dominate color and red is called “recessive red”. In the charts “B” indicates a black marker in the gene and “ED” is how you will see it in documents. In the charts, the “b”  indicates a marker for “recessive red” and you will see “e” or “E+” for that marker in documents.

    If an animal has both color markers being the same, that is called “homozygous”. That, basically, is a strong indication the animal will be whatever the color markers were. If the markers were (ED, ED), which is black, it is almost certain the animal will be black. That would be labeled as Homozygous Black. It is the same for red if the color markers were (e, e) called Homozygous Red.

    If an animal has two different color markers like ED, e  or ED, E+ , that is called “heterozygous black, red carrier. This can mean that the animal is black but could have a red offspring depending upon the color markers in the animal it is bred to.

    Generally, breeders will use this DNA color tests if they are wanting their animals to be either black or red. If the breeder did not want red in their herd, they would look for animals that tested to be homozygous black (ED,ED) or (ED,E+). If the breeder was wanting red, they would look for animals testing (e,e) or (E+,e). They could also take a chance and breed to an animal that tested heterozygous black, red carrier (ED,E+) with another animal that tested (e,e) or (ED,e).