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CATTLE BREEDING: If we don’t change we don’t grow


The Art of Livestock Breeding: It starts with a need

The breeding of domesticated livestock has long been considered to be an art practiced by food producers of the world. It is has definitely not been static. It started with observant farmers seeing an opportunity to improve the attributes of their stock. Initially this meant fixing the characteristics of their stock and establishing breeds. Breed purity was the primary focus which often meant coat colour in cattle or ability to pull heavy loads in horses; reproduction rates in pigs’, egg production volume in chickens; ability to find their way home in carrier pigeons and so on as the need or goal was established.

Dairy Cattle Breeding: The cream rises to the top

Over the centuries species and breeds have evolved. In cattle it meant animals that were developed for draught, meat and milk production. Milk has achieved special designation and has been recognized as nature’s most perfect food. Over time, there have been hundreds of attempts at developing breeds of cattle for their milk producing ability. That progressed to the point where there were only a few. Today Holstein and Jersey are the major survivors. These breeds were developed in temperate regions of Europe each with their own characteristics.

Advancement of North American Breeding: No decade stands still

Over the twentieth century dairy farmers in North America have molded their dairy cattle into what they are today by taking many steps. A brief and not all inclusive synopsis of some of those changes by decade are:

Early 1900’s Milk recording groups formed to authenticate volumes and milk quality
1920’s Type Classification programs started
1930’s With electricity came the start of machine milking, larger herds and the need for teats to point to ground and be close together
1940’s Artificial insemination, the painting of breed True Type pictures and the need for milk not to carry diseases humans could contact
1950’s Mechanization of field work resulted in farms specialization, improved forage quality, off farm processing of milk and sire daughter raw averages
1960’s Sire proving coops were formed, milk recording started to be used for more than just animal authentication purposes and farmer marketing coops were established
1970’s Greatly expanded numbers of young sires being sampled, BLUP analysis technique and genetic indexes for both bulls and cows
1980’s Significant changes in genetic indexing methodologies, breeds and breeding companies with specified breeding strategies, the practise of on-farm preventive medicine programs by veterinary practices and amalgamation of farmer coops for recording, breeding and milk marketing
1990’s Dairy cattle breeding adopted more finely tuned breeding formula’s (TPI, LPI and Net Merit), total mixed rations, on-farm least cost feeding, increased on-farm management practises including computer software programs, data analysis to better predict genetic merit, and in Canada governments , due to budgetary constraints removed themselves from the provision of milk recording and genetic indexing services
2000’s Greatly enhanced rates of genetic advancement, capture of data for auxiliary and functional traits, refinements in breeding strategies to consider more than milk and conformation, routine use computerized farm management for both production and economics, greatly expanded herd sizes,management took on greater importance on all farms and researchers started to consider if the DNA make-up of an animal could be used for genetic advancement

Finding a New Path: Adding Genomics

Very definitely the move about five years ago by a few AI companies and the USDA to compare the DNA snips results with the genetic evaluations for dairy bulls proven in the USA and Canada was significant. However the decision not only to study but to make the results openly available to breeders was a gigantic step. Breeders could know the genomic results for bulls and cows. This meant that breeders were central to the genetic future of their animals and their industry. Compare that to the swine and poultry industries where relatively few breeding companies own the genetics of the world. Now in 2012 all dairy cattle breeding regions of the world are using, or are about to use, genomics to evaluate their animals’ genetic composition.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

I have always noticed that people who make a difference are the ones who, not only don’t resist change, but welcome it. It is important that producers through their breed societies and breeding coops continue to have open minds and collectively research and develop the genetics of their dairy cattle. If breeders are to govern their destinies, they need to make sure that their elected and organization officials are objective and dynamic in how they approach changes to cattle breeding such as genomics. Many changes are yet to be thought of. We always need to remember that, “When you are through changing, you are through.”


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