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Archive for Council for Dairy Cattle Breeding

Genomic Testing – Are You Missing Out?

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

When The Bullvine mentions genomic testing to production oriented breeders, we frequently get the reaction “Oh, that’s just for herds that sell high priced animals. I focus on running a profitable milking operation. I don’t need to spend money on testing my animals.” Well, in fact, that is not an accurate assessment of the benefits available from using this tool at the present time. If you are among those not using genomics, Stop Procrastinating! It is a tool that everyone breeding their herd to improve it genetically should not be without.

Only Very Moderate Uptake – So Far

Currently, there is an 8% uptake of genomic testing of all Holstein heifer calves. The total is less in other breeds. We have barely scratched the surface.  Half a century ago, official milk recording was at the same low level. Today it is recognized as a much-needed toll both on-farm and in the national herd. Obviously the question that breeders need answers to is ‘How will I benefit from genomic testing all my heifer calves?

Known Benefits

Much has been written about benefits and opportunities available to breeders who are submitting samples for DNA testing. Those range from selecting the best mates for your females, … to parentage verification, … to how to manage your heifer herd, … to deciding which heifers to breed and which ones to cull or implant, … to polled or not polled, …to finding the genetic outlier of an individual mating, …to an aid in marketing heifers in sales.

Just recently Holstein USA and Zetas launched an exciting service called Enlight. Breeders that submit their samples to Zoetis can through Holstein USA’s website summarize and analyze their heifers for their genetic qualities. This is the first, and no doubt other breeds will establish similar services in the future. Breeding to get the genetics that work best for you and then managing them in the best way possible is definitely important.

At the industry level, genomic testing has also proven beneficial. Alta Genetics, a few years ago, working with large herds in the USA, parentage verified all young sire daughters. It was a significant step forward in accuracy of sire proofs so they could guarantee their product to their customers. Companies like Zoetis and Neogen initiated genomic testing services so they could help producers and also as complementary to their other products. A.I companies have been able to restrict their young sires sampled to only top genomically evaluated young sires, thereby saving millions for themselves by not sampling the bottom enders and millions for breeders that did not have to raise, calve in and milk the lower genetic merit daughters of the bottom end bulls. All of these benefits are leading to cost savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

However six years into using genomics we are only starting to reap the rewards.

Genomics Will Make the Future Brighter

Breeders often mention that they want sires to use and females in their herd that are superior to what is available today for traits that are difficult or impossible to measure. Here are some thoughts and facts that may help breeders to decide to use genomic testing so they can have animals that are even more profitable than their herd is today. It does however require that genomic testing becomes routine (Read more: Why 84% of Dairy Breeders Will Soon Be Using Genomic Sires!).


Investigation, at the farm level, is being done in beef heifers on growth rates, diets tailored to genotype, immunity to common diseases and age at first estrus. The results of those studies will be able to be applied to dairy heifers since little similar research is being conducted for dairy heifers. Already breeders can test for the genetically inferior heifers, so they do not need to be raised. Up to $500 per heifer in rearing cost could be saved by having the retained heifers calving by 22 months of age.  Remember that it is age at first estrus that is important, for which we have very limited farm data. First breeding depends on a breeding actually occurring.  With heifers genotyped and selected for first estrus significant savings will be possible.

Feed Efficiency:

Two major research projects, one in USA and The Netherlands and one in Australia and New Zealand, will identify the cows that are genetically more efficient at converting their feed to milk. Within a couple of years, we can expect to see reports relating genomic information to feed efficiency.  This type of research is costly and not currently practical at the farm level, but using research herds this investigation is well underway. Reducing feed costs by 5-10% through genetic selection would result in many millions in savings. That is likely to be crucial to the dairy cattle breeding industry as dairy competes to feed a hungry world. (Read more: Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver and 15 Strength Sires That Will Still Fit In Your Stalls)


CDCB already makes available the inbreeding level of genomically tested animals based on their genomic results. No doubt further research results will provide numbers associated with inbreeding. Think about it. In the past the inbreeding level for two full sisters, based on pedigree, has been considered the same. However, by using their genomic profiles the level of inbreeding can be much more accurately known for each sister. A recent report from CDN, for the time period 2010 to 2013, shows that inbreeding rates are increasing not decreasing. Even though breeders are aware that inbreeding is a negative to future profit, they continue using fewer sire lines. More in-depth study of presence or absence of genes that negatively affect the viability of our cattle take time. Why do we always expect someone else to take responsibility for the level and rates of inbreeding? (Read more: 6 Steps to Understanding & Managing Inbreeding in Your Herd and Stop Talking About Inbreeding…)

Disease Resistance:

The list is long on diseases that breeders want their animals to be resistant to. Many research projects are underway to relate the genotype to particular types of mastitis, respiratory diseases, wasting diseases and even production limiting diseases like milk fever. CDN and Canadian milk recording agencies have been capturing field data for a number of years now on eight production limiting diseases. In time, the relationships between genetic lines and these diseases will be better-known. So that selection can be carried out to avoid problem bloodlines. When more animals are genomically tested, and bloodlines prone to diseases are identified great steps forward will be able to be made. It takes considerably more than 8% of the population genomically tested to move breeding for disease resistance to reality. (Read more:  Genomics – Opportunity is Knocking)


Failure to get animals to show good heats, to produce good oocytes and conceive when bred is the leading frustration on most dairy farms. The role that genetics plays in that frustration is now receiving attention by many researchers and organizations. In the past, the capturing of useful data to do genetic analysis relative to reproduction has been a significant problem. The relating of genomic results to reproduction holds out considerable hope. Early embryonic death, haplotypes that negatively impact reproduction, genetic difference between animals for cystic ovaries and many more are all areas of concern for breeders. Once again both genomic and on-farm data are needed to move forward. (Read more: 10 things dairies with great reproduction do right and Are Your Genetics Wasting Feed and Labor?)


I hear breeders say “Genomic indexes are just like production indexes.” However, that is not so. There are genomic indexes for production traits, conformation traits and management traits. Genomics is a dynamic science. It is best if breeders know not only the genomic values for the animals currently in their herds but also their ancestors. To build the genomic history for a herd necessitates that testing start as soon as possible. Genomics is a tool every breeder will benefit from using no matter what their selection goals are. (Read more: Better Decision Making by Using Technology and FACT VS. FANTASY: A Realistic Approach to Sire Selection)

In Another World

Outside the world of dairy cattle but totally related to DNA analysis, there is a study just under way in the United Kingdom, where 100,000 people with cancer or rare diseases are being genotyped to better understand people’s ability to avoid or resist cancer and disease. One of the terms used in the news release was that before there was DNA profiling this work would not have been possible. Relating that back to dairy cattle, if we do not have the DNA information for animals we will be limited in our ability to eliminate deleterious genes from our cattle.

Will Genomic Testing Pay?

The question for breeders appears to have been one of cost – benefit. “What will I get for the fifty dollar cost of doing a low-density test?”  The fact is that, to date, milk producers have not taken the opportunity for more rapid genetic advancement by testing all their heifers. However, the tide is about to change. With new information coming out almost weekly on how the genetic (aka genomic) make-up of an animal relates to profitability, breeders without genomic information on their herd will not be in a position to know which sires to use or how to manage or feed their animals. Genomic testing needs to be viewed as an investment rather than a cost. Invest $50 shortly after birth to save hundreds over the cow’s lifetime.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Every journey requires that a first step be taken. The first step is that breeders submit samples for DNA analysis. Every breeder will benefit by knowing the genomics of their herd. No doubt the cost of testing will come down as more breeders participate.  Future success in dairying will require genomic testing, just as current success depends on capturing and using performance information. Are you prepared for using genomic information to assist in creating your future success in dairying?

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


Not sure what all this hype about genomics is all about?

Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

Download this free guide.





Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the future of the dairy breeding industry.  New technology, new information and new organizations are entering the industry at record rates.  The problem is that along with all the changes there is also concern about who is leading these changes and protecting the interests of the average breeder.  One of the ongoing battles is the one surrounding the production and publication of US genetic evaluations.  The recent development of the Council for Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) has sparked a war between CDCB and Holstein USA over access to information.  Both sides are threatening to take their toys and go home.

”He who controls the information controls the world.”

Is anyone even considering the answer to the question, “Who does the information belong to?”  As we wrote back in March of 2012 the conflict is over who will have control of the information.  (Read more: Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?) Now more than 2 years later this battle is coming to a head.  Rumors suggest that Holstein USA is threatening that they won’t share type data with CDCB/USDA because they are not in support of positions and actions being taken at CDCB and are even considering producing their own genetic evaluations for production in addition to the evaluations they currently do for type.  Now let’s be clear.  Up until this point Holstein USA has cooperated fully in the exchange of data.  However, they have been very upfront about their concerns regarding material licensing agreements (MLAs) and the usage of Holstein data.

Enemy at the gates

When you consider that larger and larger corporations have now started to enter into the dairy genetics marketplace, whoever has access to the information will have the power.  If these new players get instant free access to this information, what does that mean to breeders?  I would guess that it would not be positive to seed stock producers or to those who market and sell dairy cattle genetics that has already seen significant decline in their animal values.(Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions 2013, Who Killed The Market For Good Dairy Cattle? and Is There Still Going To Be A Market For Purebred Dairy Cattle In 10 Years?)  You see the big nasty label should not be applied to the AI companies but rather to multinational supply companies.  That is the enemy I think the large AI companies are most threatened by.  Not the smaller AI organizations taking market share but rather these significantly larger corporations that have the resources to squash the large AI companies like a bug.

Imperfect Track Record

Now let’s say that USDA’s recent track record leaves some questions in many breeders’ minds.  Their decision to restrict breeders’ rights to genomic test their own bulls for a period of time certainly raised the ire of many.  Now the heated debate includes the formation of CDCB comprised of Breeds, DHI and AI (each with 3 seats on the board).  There doesn’t appear to be any apparent savings and no intention to reduce the USDA budget as a result of this decision.  And with the makeup of the board, it is felt that it is controlled by NAAB and the large AI organizations.

Once again this has me asking who exactly controls the information.

Holstein USA has been very vocal about stating that they have their members’ best interests at heart.  I respect that.  However I also see the other viewpoint that points out that this is the same information that members have paid for and yet they don’t get free access to it as in other countries.  Moreover, the limited amount of information that they do get access to comes with additional charges.  In the US is costs $8US to register a calf, in Canada it costs $9 CDN to register a calf.  Considering the exchange values these are about the same expense.  Though in Canada all information is then made publicly available to all.  In the US everyone has to pay an additional $3US per animal in order to get that information. So does Holstein USA really have their members interests at heart?  Or are they driven by their own survival and pocket book?  This is why the relevance of breed associations and programs like type classification are becoming key issues for many breeders.  (Read more: What is the Role of a Dairy Cattle Breed Association? and She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way!)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Am I saying that I am in full support of CDCB’s actions?  No.  It seems to be heavily weighted against breeders and towards the interest of the larger AI companies.  I am most concerned that breeders have access to information.  As more and more AI companies get into owning  females and  developing  of their own bloodlines, the  very livelihood of  seed stock producers is threatened (Read more: Should A.I. Companies Own Females?, Why Good Business for AI Companies Can Mean Bad Business For Dairy Breeders, and What the Experts Won’t Tell You about the Future of the A.I. Industry).  So I understand why Holstein USA should be concerned.  The majority of the membership, and especially those at the board level, is made up of these very seed stock producers.  So if they were truly concerned about these breeders, why don’t them allow them access to all the information?  It’s not about control.  It’s about breeders’ success. Nobody wins if infighting prevents progress.



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2014 editors choice graphicOver the years it has been almost impossible to predict which hot new sire would be the next great sire of sons.  Just because a sire had a high index did not always mean that he was going to be a great sire of sons.  For instance, sires like Goldwyn produced great bull mothers but did not seem to make as much of an impact through their sons.  There have also been sires like O-Man that were great sires of sons, but did not seem to leave consistent bull mothers.  Fortunately, genomics at the chromosomal level has started to give us insight into which sires will make better sires of sons and which ones will be more impactful through their daughters.

Look to the past to predict the future

There is no question that Goldwyn has been one of the biggest impact sires over the past 20 years.  But for all the great daughters he has left, he has not had the same dominant performance through his sons.  Recent analysis by the Bullvine actually starts to explain why. Using the Chromosomal Predicted Transmitting Abilities tool on the Council for Dairy Cattle Breeding’s website we took a look at the top 10 Goldwyn daughters with EBV and genomic tests and his top 10 sons.  The following is what we found.

Table 1 – BRAEDALE GOLDWYN’s genetic contribution to his top progeny

$NM Sire Dam %Sire %Dam












It is interesting to note that Goldwyn was much more dominant (11%) in passing his genetics on to his daughters than he was to his sons.  When you look deeper at this, you will actually find that Goldwyn himself actually received 64% of his genetics from his mother, BRAEDALE BALER TWINE VG-86-2YR-CAN 33*.


Click on image to enlarge

In order to put this into a relative comparison, we decided to look at a sire that has been the opposite scenario, O-BEE MANFRED JUSTICE.  O-Man has been one of the greatest sires of sons of the past 20 years, but not as dominant on the female side.  When we look at Justice’s top 10 daughters and sons we find the following.

Table 2 – O-BEE MANFRED JUSTICE’s genetic contribution to his top progeny

$NM Sire Dam %Sire %Dam












It is interesting to see that when looking at Justice’s progeny results he played a far more significant role on average, 68% of the genetic contribution to his progeny, than Goldwyn’s 59%.  This is especially true where Justice contributed 12% more to his top sons than Goldwyn did. This is not surprising when you notice that O-Man himself received a much larger contribution (48%) of his genetics from his father, as compared to Goldwyn’s 36%.


Click on image to enlarge

Who’s Next?

Based on these trends, when looking at some of the top genomic sires from the past 4 years, we find that sires like Mogul, and Epic will be more impactful as sires of sons than say sires like Supersire and Numero Uno.  This is based on the proportions of their current chromosomes coming from their sires and their dams.

As far as current top genomic sires go, DE-SU 11756 OCTAVIAN-ET, SEAGULL-BAY SILVER-ET and MR DELICIOUS COIN 15006 will be more impactful through their sons.  Sires like MORNINGVIEW MCC KINGBOY and EDG JACEY MCCUT 8396-ET will probably leave more bull mothers, rather than sires of sons.  Again, this is based on the proportions of their current chromosomes coming from their sires and their dams.

The Bullvine Bottom Line.

For years, we have wondered why some sires seemed unable to pass on their great genetics to their sons.  Now at the chromosome level we know why.  Some sires are just more dominant about passing their genetics onto their progeny than others.  (Read more:  The Genetic Genius of Darwin, Mendel and Hunt – Genetic Transmission and the Holstein)  A sire’s ability to pass his genetics onto his progeny especially his sons, has a huge impact on whether or not he will be an impactful sire of sons.  For bulls like Goldwyn, this inability means he has fewer legacy sons, while Justice’s ability to dominantly pass on his genetics has contributed to his sons reading like a who’s who list.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


Not sure what all this hype about genomics is all about?

Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

Download this free guide.






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