Enhancing Genetic Programs with Genomics
By: Jenny Hanson, Communications Manager, CRI
Throughout history, Genex and predecessors have been known for ingenuity and innovation leading to the betterment of the dairy industry. Whether looking at the cooperative's research which led to today's calving ease evaluations or the development of the GENESIS program, Genex has focused on improving cattle genetics and the profit potential of members and customers. Just as Genex firmly stood by those advancements, so it strongly promotes the use of genomic sires in herds around the globe.
In CRI's April International Horizons, Dr. Tom Lawlor of Holstein Association USA, Inc., shared a similar mentality on this new technology. "Genomics is an additional source of information that allows us to get a better reading on the true genetic merit of an animal."
Lawlor went on to say, "We now have a better understanding of the genetics of our animals. This allows us to achieve a more accurate evaluation of health and fitness traits, which is a great help in improving our breed."
Sam Potter, a registered Holstein breeder from Spruce Haven Dairy in Auburn, N.Y., has incorporated genomic-proven sires into his breeding program because he understands the benefits. "I use genomic sires because I know you get the greatest genetic gain from the shortest generation interval. Genomic sires also have a higher reliability or confidence level for traits than young sires."
Traditional "young sire" evaluations are based only on parent averages. Before genomic proofs, young sires averaged about 35 percent reliability. While they are still young in age, their average reliability has nearly doubled - up to about 68 percent reliability - and they are considered (genomic) proven sires.
Also investing in genomic sire genetics is Daniel Hischke of Sunrise Dairy LLC, Suring, Wis. He states, "In the short term, the benefits I get are the use of three to four years of bulls. In the long term, the procurement of sires will be more accurate."
The short-term benefit Hischke is referring to is the younger bulls (those that would traditionally have been released in 2011, 2012 and 2013 after receiving daughter proofs) that have been released into the active lineup now because of their exemplary genomic evaluations.
Arie Vanden Broek of Olds, Alberta, Canada, commented on the elite genetics of the genomic sires. "They are younger sires with some of the highest genetic evaluations for individual traits and lots of potential."
Many dairy producers have begun to utilize genomic sires. In fact, in recent months more than one-third of Genex semen sales have been genomic sires. However, producers use genomic genetics in different ways to enhance herds and meet individual goals.
Hischke chooses all sires based on the Lifetime Net Merit (LNM) profit index. "I use high LNM sires whether they are genomic proven or daughter proven. However for genomic bulls, I use less semen from each sire than I do with daughter-proven bulls."
Vanden Broek uses a mating guide with a certain percentage of genomic sires and percentage of daughter-proven sires that rank high for health traits, milk and components.
"I am currently using 30 to 40 percent of genomic sires for our flushes and embryo transfers," notes Potter "and, we use genomic sexed semen when it is available on the sires we want."
According to Lawlor, opportunities exist in matching groups of superior animals at an early age. "By pairing a group of elite genomic-tested heifers with a group of genomic-tested young sires, you are able to make more rapid genetic gain. Young animals will benefit the most from genomics."
Recommendations on Reliability
Both dairy producers and A.I. industry professionals offer recommendations on how to utilize genomic sires despite slightly lower reliability levels than daughter-proven sires.
Lawlor puts it in simple terms. "Use multiple sires. By spreading out the number of sires used, you will get a better average reliability."
Watching the intensity with which one sire is used is important. "We don't get too carried away with any one sire," explains Potter. "After each sire summary, we choose about 30 different bulls and use 10 units from each one."
"Take advantage of the technology, but still be cautious of the lower reliabilities. Spread your risk," adds Hischke.
Adding Value with Elite Genetics
When utilizing genomic sires, Potter recommends "to be as cut throat as possible" with genetics. He explains, "Use only the very best genomic sires. Even if their genetic evaluations go down as they add daughter information, they are still really good genetically."
For example, as a 70 percent reliable genomic sire adds daughters and improves to 95 percent reliability, the expected change for a trait such as LNM is approximately ±$147. Said another way, if the genomic bull is +$700 LNM at 70 percent reliability, then at 95 percent reliability he is expected to be between +$847 and +$553 LNM.
"My advice is that everyone should utilize genomic sires," adds Vanden Broek. "They are not as cheap as ‘young sires' but they are worth so much more genetically. I expect to use more genomic sires in the future."
"The bottom line," according to Lawlor, "is genomics is simply another way to better the breed. Ten years from now, we will see big gains from this technology in that we'll be milking better cows in our herds."
Genomics is a revolutionary tool. Extensive science and research have demonstrated its accuracy and therefore, Genex fully embraces this new technology. In fact, half of the cooperative's current mating contracts are to genomic sires.
posted August 2009