“Genomics has taken dairy cattle genetics to new heights.” Of course, there are breeders who agree and others who disagree with that statement. Regardless of our individual opinions, breeders definitely know more about the genetic make-up of the top animals than we did prior to 2008.

Let’s do an analysis on using and relying on genomics to achieve genetically improved dairy cattle in the future through increased accuracy, profitability, and genetic advancement.

Strengths

  • allows for reducing the effects of biases found in the phenotypic data used in genetic evaluations (accuracy)
  • can be used for both parentage verification and genetic indexing (accuracy)
  • increases the accuracy of genetic indexes for young bulls and genetically elite females (accuracy)
  • provides for enhanced accuracy when culling of heifers based on genetic indexes (accuracy)
  • allows for decreasing the generation intervals (rate of genetic advancement)
  • reduces the number of young bulls that need to be sampled. Each one costs $50,000. (profitability)
  • allows breeders to focus on replicating their best genetically indexed animals or families (genetic advancement)
  • can be used for decisions beyond genetics including in health and management (profitability)
  • fits a breeding model that uses genetic indexes and yields rapid genetic gain (genetic advancement)

Weaknesses

  • currently, not enough young females are being tested to know accurately the population average and ranges
  • adds to the cost for documenting animals
  • took some control out of the hands of breeders and breed associations
  • resulted in more friction amongst breeders
  • required that breeds incur the cost of education/awareness programs
  • does not fit a breeding model that uses show results or requires 90+% reliability for sires used

Opportunities

  • provides the opportunity for more on-farm profit including the need to raise fewer heifers (profitability)
  • reduces the loss that breeders incur when they get low-end heifers from low genetic merit unproven sires (profitability)
  • allows for breeders to implement new models for breeding and marketing (profitability)
  • results in a more rapid genetic improvement for both herds and breeds, at less cost (genetic advancement)
  • allows for the genetic evaluations for additional important traits (profitability and genetic advancement)
  • allows for the genetic evaluations for traits on which it is hard to capture field data (profitability and genetic improvement)
  • allows for the accuracy of comparison for animals originating from foreign sources (accuracy)
  • allows for re-structuring of or adding to services that breeders need (profitability)

Threats

The following threats are largely based on changes in the status quo.

  • devalues some animals previously considered elite and of some animals capable of winning at local shows
  • if not used wisely can result in increased levels of inbreeding
  • provides for breeders to discontinue participation in performance recording programs, yet they can make significant genetic improvement
  • could result in fewer A.I organizations and thereby potentially less choice for breeders
  • may require that a new genetic evaluation formula be developed 

Where from here?

The position taken by breeders relative to genomic information very often depends on whether they see genomics as a threat or as an opportunity. It’s time to be positive.  It’s impossible to turn back the clock. We need to stop the negativity on the topic of genomics or toward the people using that information. Breeders and industry stakeholders need to work nationally and internationally for collective benefit. With further research and development genomics will provide discerning breeders with information so they can achieve their breeding and profitability goals.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The Bullvine strongly supports using genomic information. Although it is not the only tool, it is a very constructive one for improving the total genetic merit of dairy cattle. Progressive and pro-active breeds and breeders will use and further develop this tool.

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The first webinar in the series to be held on Noon (EST) Wednesday July 8th 2015, and will focus on the basics of genomics to provide producers with a better understanding of the benefits of knowing more about their heifers. Click here to reserve your seat!