Dairy cattle breeders have come to rely on their genetic indexes being calculated on a national or international basis by governments or independent industry organizations. Here at The Bullvine, we often refer to CDCB, CDN, VIT, ADHIS, Breed Societies and Interbull without mentioning their credentials or neutrality because we have trust in the numbers they produce for breeders to use to genetically advance their cattle. CDCB (Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding) in the USA is the newest of these organizations, and it has grown out of the AIPL-USDA’s decision to discontinue the production trait genetic indexing service for the US dairy cattle industry.
However, on the horizon is a considerable amount of on-farm data that national evaluation centers are not using. As well there is the desire by (A.I.) breeding companies to have and use genetic indexes for traits for which there is data but which may be outside the data standards that the national centres require or for which the companies do not wish to pay the fees charged by national centers. Add to that, new national trait evaluations are very slow in their development and approval.
So The Bullvine asks “Will genetic evaluations go private?”.
Private Is Not New
Privately produced trait rating systems have been around since the early days of A.I. Breeders wanted to know facts, so A.I. organizations produced ratings starting with sire semen fertility followed by numerous other characteristics of their bulls’ daughters. One difficulty with these organization based systems was that each had its unique method of expression. This meant that breeders had to understand and remember many rating systems. It did, however, allow A.I.’s to have something unique in their tool box.
Another alternative, though perhaps not entirely private, is the improvement industry in New Zealand where LIC captures the data, calculates the genetic indexes, samples the bulls and markets the bulls. Arms length decision making and lack of diversity in the breeding program are questioned by breeders who use NZ genetics.
To do national and international genetic evaluations, where large volumes of data are included, it is paramount that the data combined have commonalities in such things as number of days milked, milking frequency, lactation number and age at classification. With the requirement for standardization, it results in the process of developing new genetic indexes being a relatively long process. That does not work well in a time of rapidly changing breeder needs for additional traits or when breeding companies have unique marketing plans.
Standardization adds cost. It is only worth it if the benefits for the population exceed the costs.
What Data Is Not Standardized?
Today there is a rapidly growing volume of data uniquely collected by companies. In the past half decade, the increase in the number of automated data capture devices has been dramatic. Rumination rate, animal activity, milking frequency, milk per quarter, milk temperature, hormone levels…it is almost an endless list. (Read more: BETTER DECISION MAKING BY USING TECHNOLOGY) And the list only gets longer every month. An important note is that each company and device has its method of data capture and expressing the results.
Another factor that breeders find confusing is that, although similarly named, traits are different in the ways that they are calculated and reported. Some of these traits include feed efficiency, fertility, length of herd life, ability to transition from dry to milking and mobility. It all depends on the organization, national genetic evaluation centre, breed society, A.I. or service company, doing the evaluation.
What Additional Indexes Could There Be?
Here again, the list of genetic indexes that could be possible is endless. A few that the Bullvine has heard breeders considering or organizations planning to produce include:
- Milk let down and minutes to milk
- Ability of animals to adapt to equipment and systems
- Cow rejection rate in single unit robotic systems or cow visitation rate
- Animal fertility including ability to conceive, early embryonic death and abortion rate
- Animal behavior and social interaction
- Feed intake and feed conversion
- Animal mobility
- Calf growth, health, feed conversion, disease resistance, .., etc.
- Embryo production during embryo transfer
- Ability to produce show winning progeny
Yes, the genetically related list is long. And beyond genetic indexes breeders will want many management and business related details. I received a novel question a month ago when a breeder ask if it could be possible for him to separate A1A1 and A1A2 milk from A2A2 milk, at milking time, so he would be able to keep the A2A2 milk separate for sale at a higher price. That’s a business person thinking about opportunities.
What is Likely to Happen
It is very likely that private companies with on-farm data and breeding companies wanting to have additional or unique indexes will form alliances for the calculation of new genetic indexes. If they aren’t doing it already, it will happen soon. Definitely, breeding companies working with equipment and service providers would be able to use all the data from many countries.
In the absence of having industry approved indexes breeders will be faced with using various company indexes. Fully trained geneticists already work for all of the data capture, breeding, service, product and genomic evaluation companies. So it is not a matter of if, but when it will happen.
Time will tell if these new genetic indexes are accurate, useful and understood. One significant question is – “Once the move to private is started will it continue to also include the current national evaluations for production, type, health and fertility traits?”.
In short “the horse is out of the barn”, there will be widespread availability of privately calculated genetic indexes in the future.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Dairy cattle breeders can expect to see, read or hear sales reps promoting their sires based on new indexes. Is that good? The Bullvine predicts the answer is YES. Well, yes, provided that the indexes will assist breeders to improve the genetic merit of their cattle for lifetime profit.