Is it likely that genomic testing will be more valued by North American, European and Oceana Holstein breeders, in ten years’ time? Looking ahead and planning is a good start to achieving profitable genetic goals for a herd and population. Let’s explore some thoughts and ideas about the future use of genomic testing in dairy cattle for herds focused on productivity and profit.
The Annual Reports from the breeds show 6% (2017) of Canadian and 30% (2016) and 40% (20170of American Holsteins identified were genomically tested. Given those percentages, it shows that the majority of breeders with Holsteins do not value the information. For the other breeds the percentages are lower and, in some cases, almost non-existent. Given that the majority of American dairy animals are not identified with breed societies the use of genomic testing is very low.
If you or your family plan to be in the dairy business in a decade and proactively improving more than others do, when it comes to breeding superior cattle, will be a leg up. Moreover, when your children come home from college they will have the latest facts on genes and the DNA composition for the herd. With a herd genomically tested those children will be ready to hit the ground running when applying their knowledge to their chosen breeding program.
Currently There Are Seven BAD Reasons for Not Choosing Genomic Testing
This article does not plan to dwell on the past and the negatives however some positions are important to correct.
- Yes, the $38 to $45 seems costly but that only equates to three weeks raising cost for a heifer. Culling 5% of the heifers, the lowest ones, at 3 months of age will save twice the costs of testing. Culling the lowest 10% will save four times the cost.
- There is not the demand for surplus heifers that existed twenty years ago. Sexed semen, much improved heifer rearing and the rearing cost of $2,500 per heifer means that herd replacement programs, which are 15%-20% of total costs on dairy farms, are important to achieving a successful bottom line.
- It is true that, on average, the results of genomic testing may not differ greatly from parent average for total genetic merit (TPI, LPI, NM$, Pro$, JPI,..etc.). However, for 90% of the animals tested there be two, if not more, traits that are significantly different and that information will be very useful when making heifer mating decisions.
- It is true that when breeding for show ring type, genomically testing may not be of great help. But, when breeding for correct conformation, genomically testing is relatively (60-70%) accurate. Remember that less than 0.1% of heifers ever see the show ring in their lifetime.
- Although genomic testing results are most often quoted or promoted for heifers based on their total merit indexes (i.e. TPI or NM$), it is the component traits of the total merit indexes that are important when making breeding decisions. Component traits include yields, health, fertility, longevity, conformation and functional traits. The use and awareness of genomic indexes for all economically important traits would, today, be greatly enhanced, if breeds were to monthly provide top animal lists for all traits not just for TPI, LPI or JPI.
- Genomic indexes have been accepted for males as 70% of sires used have genomic but not proven sire indexes. Yet the female side of a mating is equally important to the male side so genomic testing of females should be equally important. Holstein USA is congratulated for initiating and providing genomic testing service programs in cooperation with its partners that are gaining in acceptance but they have yet to reach 40% usage by members.
- Breeders often mention that genomic testing is only for elite herds. However, that is just not true. For herds of average genetic merit, the opportunity to dramatically shift the herd average upwards is a definite possibility.
Which Is It – Cost or Benefit?
Most often genomic testing is regarded by breeders as an added cost. But what about the opportunity for added benefits that become available from having added information?
Here are some suggestions on how the $45 charge could be allocated to opportunities for benefits:
- 100% Parent Verification $5
- Culling or Using as Recips the Lowest 10% of Indexed Heifers $20
- Improved Accuracy for All Matings in a Female’s Lifetime $15
- Building Larger, More Accurate Female Population Data Base $5
Viewed that way the $45 presents valuable opportunities. The benefit approach is a return on investment. If the testing could be done for $25 it would be a giant step forward.
Nine Future Opportunities from Genomic Testing
The following list is by no means all-inclusive, but it is a start to some of the areas where genomic testing will most likely be used in the future. Our previously published article on epigenetics and nutrigenetics delved into some areas also (Read more: Forget Genomics – Epigenomics & Nutrigenomics are the Future and Epigenetics will be a Driver for Future Successful Dairying).
- Milk Products: Differences between animals in the fats and proteins they produce are sure to increase or decrease the value of the milk a cow produces. A2 milk has already caught consumer’s attention.
- Longer Animal Lifetimes: The surface has just been scratched on identifying animals that live longer and, thereby, produce higher lifetime profits.
- Disease Resistance: Animal diseases will be with the world for all time, so animals with immunity or that are capable of resisting diseases will be in demand.
- Feed Conversion: read our recent article on feed efficiency (Read more: The Genetics of Feed Efficiency in Dairy – Where are we at?,Should You Breed for Feed Efficiency?, and A Guide to Understanding How to Breed For Feed Efficiency and Fertility)
- Environmental Issues: Our dairy cows are temperate climate animals yet they are raised in hot humid areas and with global warming, animals will need the slickgeneor be able to live and produce in increasingly warmer climates.
- Less Labor and Automation: With less individual care and with more cow-machine interactions our dairy cattle will need to be able to operate effectively with machines.
- Herd Replacements: 15-18% of total herd costs are associated with rearing replacements. Yet few herds capture complete heifer data that can be used for determining the genetic traits on heifers. Through genomic testing it should be able to know more about calf disease resistance/immunity, growth, feed conversion, age at first heat and many more traits.
- Animal Mobility: Lack of mobility and lameness are major on-farm and animal welfare issues. By genomic testing and animal monitoring, it should be possible to identify the most mobile animals.
- Cow Fertility: The corner has been turned through analyzing farm reproduction data and associating it with genomic results. Great advances in cow fertility have been made in the past decade. Expect more improvement from further use of genomic information, especially as it relates to animals under stress.
Genomic evaluations are now going global. On June 1stInterbull, on June 1st, announced the launch of GenoEx-PSE as a service to internationally rate animals, based on genomic information. As well, we may see new breeds being developed that take the best genes from various breeds, as determined by genomic results. This could lead to developing animals that meet specific needs, environments, agriculture practices and response to new diseases. Breeders themselves or A.I. breeding companies will use genomic results to breed the best dairy cattle for the future. Genomic testing will be a must do in the same way that feed ingredient balancing, vaccination, continual animal monitoring and customer milk product guarantees are.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
If a breeder has not been genomically testing their herd, the time to start is now. Every breed society can advise on the services available. Genomic testing needs to be viewed as an investment rather than a cost.
One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain. (Rick Godwin)