Ziegler emphasizes that while some of the bulls used to develop the StrataGEN breeding lines possess fairly unique genetic profiles, all of them still are high-ranking sires. “We didn’t sacrifice performance for genetic diversity,” says Ziegler, noting that every bull in the program has been or will be proven through Select Sires’ progeny test program, with specific emphasis on milk production, moderate body size, fertility, and the ability to maintain body condition score.
PARENTAGE CORRECTION – Genomic results also will flag animals whose genetic makeup does not correspond with the animals identified as the sire and dam on their submission form. Usually, the correct sire can be found in the USDA genomic database, as can the dam if she has been genomic-tested.
“We currently are logging 17 to 20 percent sire identification errors with CLARIFIDE,” says Wallace. “With multiple people performing breeding and recording information on dairies, it is a fairly common issue, despite everyone’s best efforts on the farm.” By correcting parentage information, more accurate matings can be performed, and inbreeding can be avoided.
Hoffman has observed slow, steady adoption of genomic testing of heifers in the near-term, but at the same time cautions that no technology stands on its own. “The information from genomics is powerful, but it must be accompanied by the fundamentals of successful replacement-rearing,” he says. “We still need to be hitting health and growth targets for our heifers, and get them pregnant in a timely fashion. If we don’t, we lose some or all of the added value that genomic selection affords.”
The direct financial outlay for genomics testing is no small consideration, with the cost per animal ranging from about $45 to $60. However, Wallace points out that there are both short- and long-term payoffs to maximize the investment. He says the cost of feeding a heifer today is approximately $90 per month, compared to $50 to $60 just a few years ago. “Herds usually can cull enough heifers to immediately cash-flow the test,” he says.
Of course, the long-term goal of genomics is to advance the genetic potential for milk production, conformation and fertility in the herds that apply them. “For herds that already are doing a great job with milk production, milk quality, breeding, heifer management and feedstuff production, I think genomics is the next tool to bump them to even higher levels of performance,” says Wallace. “The information should be the vehicle to help them continuously achieve the goal of milking better cows.”