Genomics stormed onto the UK scene three years ago and is widely regarded as a major breakthrough in dairy cow breeding. Farmers Guardian speaks to Genus’ breeding programme manager Andrew Rutter and dairy product manager Larissa Jones to find out more.
While farmers are keen to embrace this new technology, many are still unsure of exactly what genomics is, says Andrew Rutter.
He says: “In simple terms, a genomic evaluation compares the DNA of a potential young sire against a DNA database of proven (reliable) bulls. In our top tips we explore how you can get the most from genomics in your herd.”
Breeding companies use the science behind genomics to identify bulls with pedigrees which will be favourable to farmers.
If a good bull is identified, a sample of hair, blood or tissue is sent away for profiling. Once the profile is received, the genotype is interpreted and combined with the bull’s pedigree information to produce a genomic evaluation.
By looking at the number of daughters in a proof you will be able to establish whether or not a bull has been genomically evaluated.
Follow the golden rule – ‘zero daughters’ means the bull is a genomically-evaluated sire.
A genomic evaluation includes all the traits which are included in a traditional progeny test.
The information is also presented in the same way as a conventional daughter proof (but no daughters are used in the calculation).
If you feel concerned about the reliability of a genomic proof, Mr Rutter recommends considering the following:
If the best bulls happen to be genomic, consider using a minimum of two young sires for each proven sire which you would have normally considered. For example, when using 100 per cent genomic bulls use a minimum of eight bulls during a breeding season, whereas for traditional daughter proven bulls we would be comfortable with four.
Likewise, if you are considering 50 per cent genomic and 50 per cent proven, this would equate to a minimum of four genomic bulls and two proven bulls for the year.
While it can take up to seven years before semen from a proven bull can be made commercially available, one of the major advantages of genomics is bulls can be brought to market as soon as they start producing semen (generally about 11 months of age).
This offers the potential for more rapid genetic gain.
Using a team of bulls and taking account of the extended pedigree of the cows in the herd will help reduce inbreeding. The easiest way to do this is to use a mating programme to plan your matings.
Genomics makes use of a mating programme even more important because you need to remember data for a larger number of bulls.
You may ask yourself why pay a premium for a genomic bull when you can buy a proven one for less?
The answer - genetics is the cheapest investment pound for pound a farmer can make.
Larissa Jones says: “It is always worth considering the value for money and return on investment offered by genomics as well as the price.
"If you have a chance to make more rapid progress within the constraints of your farming system it makes sense to embrace the technology.”