As more Jersey herds sample their females for genomics, Barlass expects the technology to become more accurate and cost-efficient. He sees it as another tool for well-managed herds to maximize quality and efficiency. “Genomics will allow managers to sort, select and sell females according to their own personal strategies, and mate their retained heifers for more rapid genetic progress,” he says. “I think the resulting benefits to the Jersey breed will be great.”
The Carlson family of Pennock, Minn., has arrived at a juncture of quality versus quantity. They have grown their dairy to the point that they no longer need to raise every heifer to maintain their 1,250- cow Holstein herd.
L-R: Curtney Carlson — Chad Carlson and sons, Chad and Carl “Our farm is fully populated. In fact, we’re crowded everywhere,” says Chad Carlson, who owns and operates Carlson Dairy, LLP in partnership with his father, Curtney, and his brother, Carl. “We needed to find a way to select the very best animals to maximize our space and resources with the greatest possible efficiency.”
The Carlsons began genomic-testing every heifer calf in August 2012. They pull hair samples from the ear once a month, which usually amounts to 40 to 50 samples. All heifers are sampled by 30 days of age while they are still readily accessible in individual calf pens.
Chad Carlson says the goal of the program is to identify the lower end of the herd’s genetics and either cull those heifers or use them as embryo transfer recipients. At the same time, they plan to merchandise elite animals from the mostly registered herd, or flush them and merchandise some of the offspring.
But, in this initial phase, Carlson says they are testing the waters a bit by retaining some heifers from across the genomic spectrum to evaluate and compare their performance. “We have been surprised by a few of the animals that came back with lower-than-expected genomic results,” he shares. “Their test results don’t match up with their parent averages. We plan to raise and freshen those heifers to find out which evaluation tool prevails – the pedigree or the genomic values.”
Carlson says they are pleased that the genomic results from only a handful of heifers have come back as negative dollar values. “We view that as our reward for investing in top-end A.I. genetics for many years,” he states. Carlson Dairy’s 30,000-plus-pound rolling herd average regularly places them among the top herds in Minnesota, so even their lower-end cull heifers will likely make good-quality replacement heifers when sold.