No one likes paying upfront fees for anything. After all, what’s the point of paying for something you haven’t received yet? But there are some situations where paying upfront totally makes sense. Getting genetic information is one of those times. You give up your money first and it translates into rewards later.
Twenty years ago in Canada the dairy industry was faced with a challenge. Government said it would fund research and development but not genetic evaluation services. The goal was to shrink the cost and size of government. The industry said these reports are valuable so we are going to have to get involved and that is what happened.
Canadian Dairy Network (CDN) was established in May 1995. General Manager, Brian Van Doormaal, has been with CDN since its inception and summarizes the general details. “CDN is governed by a Board of Directors that primarily consists of breeders who are elected as representatives from four categories of member organizations, namely Breed Associations, DHI Agencies, A.I. organizations and Dairy Farmers of Canada.
In the simplest terms, all the relevant information is shared by those who contribute. Examples are: Breed pedigrees go to CDN; CDN shares them with everyone who is a partner; DHI records go to CDN and are shared with partners. These and more types of information are available to all users at all times via the Internet. Everything can be found at the CDN website AT NO CHARGE for lookups.
Van Doormaal updates the funding process behind CDN. “All activities of CDN are financed by the industry organizations that are its members and for this reason the CDN Board of Directors has established an equitable service fee structure.” He further breaks out the pay structure. “80% is paid by AI and 20% by breed associations and milk recording provide their information at no charge to CDN.”
When there is a 79% cost increase (effective April 2013), there are going to be questions. Namely, “How did CDN determine the cost of $7500 to prove a bull in Canada?” Previously the fee was $4200. The same fee has been set on a per bull basis for privately owned genotyped bulls, starting April 2013. CDN does not have any other fees so this is an all-inclusive rate that gives the bull owners access to various services associated with genetic and genomic evaluations.”
Van Doormaal further clarifies. “With the arrival of genomic evaluations in 2009, operational costs have risen due to increased staffing needs and computer power while the number of young bulls with semen released in Canada each year has almost halved.” Obviously, the plan is three-fold: provide more research; more development and, at the same time, cover costs into the future.
Van Doormaal stresses that, “In one way or another, all people and organizations will be paying fees to receive genetic and genomic evaluation services from CDN for bulls. While the mechanism for paying differs for breeders compared to A.I. organizations that are members of CDN, the level of payment is equivalent. On the female side, no fees are applied on an animal basis since the breed associations contribute to funding CDN activities on behalf of their members.”
Van Doormaal knows the international scene and explains, “While there are other countries like Canada for which the genetic evaluation services are financed completely by industry stakeholders, as opposed to government, each country inevitably ends up with its own funding formula and mechanism.” He speaks of the American situation. “In the US, the mechanism proposed for financing its genetic and genomic evaluation services includes some level of fee applied to every male and female for which a genomic evaluation is to be calculated.”
When asked about advice for breeders looking to prove their own sires, Van Doormaal urges. “Genotyping young bull calves shortly after birth makes as much sense for breeders as the genotyping of their newborn heifers. Once the genomic evaluations are available to the breeder, better decisions can be made about the bull’s future. Owners (AI or breeders) of bulls with outstanding results can then pay the CDN fee to make results official and have the young bull ranked among others available in Canada.”
Van Doormaal reports “The LPI for Holsteins in Canada currently has a range in values of approximately -3000 to +3000, which is three times bigger than the TPI in the United States and over 50 times bigger than national indexes used in most other countries.
The CDN Board of Directors decided, after consulting all stakeholders, that the LPI scale should be halved. To achieve this objective while maintaining the current level of LPI values for the highest progeny proven bulls, it was decided to add a “constant” value to the LPI formula in a manner similar to what the United States has done for years with its TPI formula. Conversion from current LPI values to the proposed new scale is simply done by dividing the current LPI in half and then adding the constant of 1700.”
Another adjustment Van Doormaal expects to happen to the LPI formula relates to the specific traits included and the relative emphasis placed on each. Analysis of various options and discussion will proceed through 2013 with a likely implementation of an updated formula in April 2014. Based on feedback received from a cross-section of breeders, there seems to be a general interest to increase the overall emphasis on longevity, fertility and disease resistance in the formula. Of course, once the emphasis is increased on some traits, there also has to be other traits losing emphasis.
In December 2012, CDN introduced Body Condition Score as a newly evaluated trait for all breeds, which can be used as an indicator for fertility, disease resistance and longevity. The release in December 2013 will include the first official genetic evaluations for Mastitis Resistance in all breeds which should be followed by Resistance to Metabolic Disorders in 2014. Other traits on the planning horizon within the next five years include desirable fatty acids and other components of milk, hoof health and feed efficiency.
Van Doormaal provides updates resulting from the introduction of Genomics. “Prior to 2009, CDN had six different genetic evaluation systems, which were run monthly to evaluate over 60 traits including production, type, longevity, female fertility, calving performance and milking speed/temperament. With the arrival of genomics, a new system was developed and implemented, which estimates Direct Genomic Values (DGVs) for all traits and combines them with traditional evaluations to produce the published genomic evaluations. This new system is also run monthly and also required the establishment of a national database to process and store all genotypes, which now totals over 310,000 across all breeds. Operationally, these new services that are highly valued by the industry organizations and breeders, have required additional geneticists and new web site development as well as investments in advanced computer equipment and processing power.”
Looking to the future, Van Doormaal gives an overview. “The era of genomics is still in its embryonic stages. It is difficult to predict the extent to which it will continue to impact the dairy cattle industry over the next 10 or 20 years. One thing for certain is that the world of genetics will continue to shrink at an increasing rate since it is so easy to collect DNA from any animal in the world and assess its genomic evaluation on numerous country scales.”
CDN will dedicate much time and effort in the coming years to fine-tuning existing traditional genetic evaluation systems and methods for estimating genomic evaluations. Van Doormaal is realistic about the possibilities. “The shift towards a higher market share held by genomic young sires compared to progeny proven sires will likely experience some pendulum swings, eventually reaching stabilized proportions as breeders and industry gain experience in the coming year.”
After 25 years working and educating in the Canadian proving system, Van Doormaal is proud of the achievements. “We are fortunate in Canada to have many geneticists and research scientists who realize that the ‘practice’ of genetic selection and mating is not the same as the ‘science’. Both sides need to continue to respect and listen to the knowledge and experience of the other. The most progress is made by incorporating the ‘science’ of genetic improvement into a solid, practical breeding program.”
Recognizing the potential of responding to changes in the industry, in technology and from science, CDN is focused on the future on behalf of breeders.
Bullvine writer, Karen Hunt, is a dairy-farm wife who is an author, entrepreneur and champion of all things rural and family farm. Karen loves the wordy side of life. Husband, three children, eight grandchildren, thirty cows and Jack Russell terriers are her inspiration!