A primary purpose of breed associations is to provide genetic information and services that assist breeders in their cattle genetic improvement efforts that have a direct effect on breeders bottom line. Although some significant changes in genetic information and techniques have been made over the past decade, there is still much that many breeds need to do. They must provide leadership so that future seed stock breeders can be successful.
Breeding has Changed
The dairy cattle breeding industry has changed significantly in the 21st century. On-farm management sexed semen and embryos produced using have tipped the balance. IVF (Read more: MASTER BREEDER KILLED IN TRIPLE HOMICIDE and MASTER BREEDER’S ARE NOT HOME RUN HITTERS) Today revenue generated from the sale of solid, but not outstanding, breeding stock has diminished. At the same time, milk producers are asking for new traits, a different emphasis on traits and improved levels of performance for existing traits. Life for modern dairy cattle breeders is far from same old, same old.
Genomic Information Has Helped
Genetic evaluation centres have done an excellent job of linking the DNA results with the previous genetic information to produce genomic indexes. In short, half a decade of genetic improvement was achieved the day genomic indexes were published. Today, seven years after the introduction of genomic indexes, we have proven sires that were selected for sampling based on their genomic indexes and that have proofs close to those of current top genomic sires. (Read more: THE TRUTH ABOUT GENOMIC INDEXES – “SHOW ME” THAT THEY WORK!, WHAT HAPPENS IF GENOMICS DOESN’T WORK? And THE BULLVINE PROVES GENOMICS DOES NOT WORK!)
Breed Societies are Missing a Key Role – Facilitator
Taking energy and resources to bash or promote genomic versus proven should be abandoned. The debate is over. It’s like debating whether you should use a fax versus send an email. For the next decade, more focus needs to be placed on genetic improvement for all economically significant traits. Breeds have a role to play when it comes to helping breeders who have varying objectives but who need to work collectively and profitably.
Change the Emphasis on Traits
Over the next five to ten years, breeders and milk producers will not be satisfied with selecting only for the traits previously considered to be important.
In herds where 85-90% of the income is from milk sold, breeders are asking for genetic information that highly correlates to revenue generated or variable cost reduction. Revenue generation traits are usually fairly easy to identify. However, most data captured by breeds and herd recording agencies do not lead or have direct correlations to being available between genetic merit and key variable costs. The top four variable costs that account for over 80% of the COP (cost of production) are: feed (50-55%); labor (13-15%); reproduction (11-13%); and replacement animals (10-12%).
Breeders want to have genetic information that relates to variable cost reduction, for their herds and the sires they use in order to use genetics for improving the farm’s bottom line. Even gains of 5% improvement in profit, using genetic information, would be significant.
Why Continue With Global Breed Groups?
Dairy cattle breeding has gone global. Breed research efforts no longer apply to one country, one breed or one breeder organization. Global breed organizations could better serve all areas of the globe by focusing on animal research and development, rather than breed purity, breed superiority or nice tours for breed officials.
Eight areas that breeders will require genetic information on and that breed associations could provide or facilitate are:
- Breed 5-10 Years in the Future: Most total merit indexes are based on today’s circumstances and each country promotes their own total merit index as the best. Where does that leave breeders who want to be prepared for the future and want to use the best there is globally? It takes three generations or ten years of females to change a herd. Therefore, breeds need to provide leadership on total merit indexes for a decade down the road.
- Heifers Need to Calve at 20-22 months: Male and female genetic evaluations for growth rates and age at first heat for heifers must be available. The longer it takes until first calving, the longer it will take for cows to show a lifetime profit. Breed associations need to promote data capture for heifers from birth to first calving.
- Animal Health and Disease Resistance Must Be Improved: Breed associations need to be promoting that all herds need to be capturing health and disease data at the farm level for both heifers and cows. With accurate data, genetic evaluations can commence. Recent research results indicate an association between genetics and tuberculosis. Could that be true for leucosis, Johnes, etc.? We don’t know. But we need to know.
- Labor for Animal Care Must Be Minimized: – For many readers labor may seem like an area where genetics cannot have an effect. However, when we think about how the animals that breeders work with impact how labor is used, it is indeed a significant cost factor. In the future, individual animal attention for most herds will be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, most breed associations are silent about the relationship between genetic merit and labor required.
- Milk Composition Needs To Be Addressed: The majority of milk is consumed in a solid form. The world’s population increase will be in the developing countries and there an even higher proportion of consumption will be on the solids side. Unique proteins (i.e. A2A2 Milk) and healthy fats need to be considered when breeding cows. Most breed associations do not store information on the unique properties of a cow’s milk and are not encouraging breeders to consider the components of milk in their breeding program.
- Reproduction Must Improve: – For most breeders reproductive performance is both the biggest frustration and a big time profit eater. If breeders only wanted a cow to calve once in her lifetime then it would not matter. It is long past time for breed associations to incorporate reproduction information into their data files. Breeders need the facts on family differences for reproduction.
- Conformation is More Than Beauty: Some progress has been made in moving away from an artistic perception of the breed ideal for type. Nevertheless, it is still quite far from form following function when it comes to most type classification programs. Traits such as style, height at the shoulder, angularity, sweep of rib and smooth blending of parts are still required for the Very Good first calf cow at the expense of a superior mammary system, superior mobility and the ability to function very well in her environment. Type classification programs need to totally divorce themselves from current show ring type standards. (Read more: SHE AIN’T PRETTY – SHE JUST MILKS THAT WAY!)
- Breeds Need to Publish All The Facts: Breed associations only publish data that they consider to be official. As well, breeds often charge for every data look up. Is that what tomorrow’s breeders will want and support? The world has changed. Nothing is exclusive, and information is the driver. The breeding industry is moving more and more to information at the gene level. When will breed organizations provide all the facts, identify the data sources and let the reader determine if they trust the information or not?
The Bullvine Bottom Line
To date, most breed associations have taken the comfortable route and followed tradition. However, tomorrow’s world is coming quickly, and breeds are not reading the signals that breeders are giving regarding the genetic information that they want and need.
Tomorrow’s breeders will not accept the continuation of the outdated practices of their breed associations. The cart is before the horse. It is not about breeders funding a breed association. It’s about the association providing relevant and up-to-date tools and information, in order for dairy breeders to be profitable and sustainable.