Plain City, Ohio [September 24, 2012] – The advent of genomics has certainly played a heavy role in today’s popular genetics. Screening for elite males and females has become more exact and has rapidly driven genetic progress far beyond anyone’s wildest expectations in a relatively short period of time. While genomic technology currently holds its greatest stakes within elite dairy cattle breeding programs, many commercial dairy operations are finding tremendous value and return on investment (ROI) in mass genomic screening.
“Genomic insights create opportunities for commercial dairies to have more control over the profit potential of their future herd,” says Jeff Ziegler, genomics program manager at Select Sires Inc. One major difference between commercial and elite genomic screening is that the emphasis is placed on the lower end animals on commercial operations. Research has shown that culling the bottom 10 to 20 percent of genomic-tested heifers can yield a hefty ROI.
As expenses continue to climb in heifer rearing, putting dollars toward feeding and housing heifers that are not going to contribute to the bottom-line only narrows profit margins. Genomic testing simplifies and adds confidence to culling and breeding decisions, as a 7K test 36 percent more reliable than traditional predicted transmitting abilities based on parent averages. This added confidence can pay significant dividends later, notes Ziegler.
Genomic testing can also assist herd managers in managing their genetic dollars. With greater knowledge of a heifer’s genetic potential, products like sexed semen can be more effectively utilized. Inversely, less expensive semen can be used on lower-ranking females if culling is not an option.
Commercial dairies with incomplete records or animal misidentification issues can be more easily managed through a genomic testing program. Historically, inbreeding and genetic recessive protection was nearly impossible to manage in herds where no pedigree is available. Holstein Association USA notes that nearly half of all animals that are missing parentage can be identified by a genomic test.
The more that is known about the genetic make-up of a group of animals (both males and females), the more certain genes and specific genetic lines can be amplified and managed. Ziegler explains, “Genomic insights allow dairy producers to achieve individual herd goals by managing the specific genes that make their operations profitable.” By coupling the information known about the animals within a herd with specific genes from carefully selected service sires, dairy producers are now capable of homogenizing the genetic make-up of their herd. This sequential process will make genetic selection more calculated and left less to chance.
Genomic testing has come a long way since it first hit the market in 2008, but like many technologies before it, it has evolved from a niche product to having mass commercial appeal. The ability to recognize and manage specific genetic capacities and lines in commercial dairies is in its infancy stages, but has the makings of revolutionizing dairy cattle breeding and reproductive management as we know it.