A genetic management programme promises to combine genomic testing with customised breeding goals, and help producers make better breeding decisions.
TEXT INGE VAN DRIE
Which are the best cows and heifers to breed replacements from? What are the most important traits to focus on when making matching sires to cows and heifers? And are producers achieving their breeding goals with the breeding decisions they make? These are questions that every producer faces at some point.
To help producers answer these questions CRV has developed HerdOptimizer, a genetic management programme that combines genomic testing with customised breeding goals, trait selection, and breeding recommendations to deliver quick and efficient herd improvement.
“The demand for genomic testing is increasing,” says CRV’s Maaike de Vries. “Producers worldwide are looking for clear insights into the genetic potential of their females. Genomic testing not only supports the health and productivity of herds, but also enhances farm profitability.”
The term HerdOptimizer is already familiar to UK producers – HerdOptimiser GO has been available to genomic test their cattle. “This service provided test results on paper, but users of the new programme will find all the results of the genomic tests in one digital application,” says Ms de Vries. “And the results of the not genomically tested animals are also shown, based on their parental averages. So the application offers direct insight in the genetic level and potential of the whole herd.”
A new feature in the programme is that it ranks the cattle within the herd based on the herd’s own customised breeding goal. “In this way, users can immediately see which cows and heifers are the most valuable from a breeding point of view. This application, therefore, helps producers to make objective breeding decisions and speed up genetic progress,” adds Ms de Vries.
Figure 1: Genomic testing supports next-generation breeding
So, how does it work? Producers can take a tissue sample from their cows and youngstock and submit it for analysis. The lab determines the DNA profile and producers typically have the results within four weeks. More than 50 breeding values per animal are shown in the application, related to milk production, health, and conformation. They are either based on the Dutch/ Flemish (NVI) or the US (TPI) base. CRV also provides the unique breeding indicators for CRV Health and CRV Efficiency.
These breeding values give producers the opportunity to make selection and breeding decisions based on solid data. “By using the outcomes of the genomic tests, producers can decide to rear only their best calves, resulting in a higher rate of genetic gain. It also enables them to use sexed semen on their genetically superior heifers, and beef sires on the remainder. And since only the best animals are reared for replacements, producers can save costs by rearing fewer replacements,” says Ms de Vries.
The results of HerdOptimizer are automatically entered into SireMatch to improve matings. SireMatch uses the results of genomic testing to provide recommendations and ensure more precise and reliable matings compared to those based on expected values. “Using these two tools combined guarantees maximum genetic progress toward individual breeding goals, resulting in higher returns for dairy herds,” says Ms de Vries.
“For example, if genomic testing flags up a heifer with poor milking speed, producers can immediately correct this in the first mating by choosing a sire that inherits a high milking speed.”
The reliability of the genomic breeding values is much higher than the breeding values based on parent average. For production and conformation traits, the reliability of genomic breeding values is already between 65% and 70%. That is almost double the reliability of a breeding value based on parent averages, and it corresponds to the reliability of a typical breeding value of a third-calved cow.
Another advantage is that the genomic test also gives insight in the presence of specific genetic traits, such as A2 and polledness.
The genetic management programme also offers producers the possibility to request various overviews. A good example is a report of their herd’s overall genetic progress. Figure 1 shows the development of the average breeding values of young animals. The expected values of the pregnancies are also included.
“The line shows the progress towards a breeding goal,” explains Ms de Vries. “Cattle below the line score worse than average on their own breeding goal, and those that sit above the line score better.
“This overview clearly shows the results of all breeding decisions,” says Ms de Vries. “The results may be a reason to adjust the breeding goal. For example, if producers see that the genetic trend for a characteristic is negative, it may be wise to pay extra attention to this when selecting sires.”
Lancashire-based producer Richard Barton has used HerdOptimizer for the past two years. “I started using it because we have a lot of heifer calves and I wanted to make sure that we are only rearing and breeding replacements from the best. You can’t gauge calf potential just by eye,” he says. His breeding goal is to try and improve milk yield and longevity. “This programme allows us to focus on those traits and use sexed semen only on our best heifers.
“It also highlighted that we had a set of twins that were completely different on their genomic proof. So it allowed us to serve one with dairy sexed semen and the other one with beef.”