Genomic screening helps build better herd
DNA analysis is helping to identify top Holstein Friesian heifers to aid the development of elite cow families and bulls for the dairy industry.
Holstein Friesian New Zealand’s (HFNZ) Discovery Project, sponsored by farmer owned co-op Livestock Improvement Corporation, is a scheme that HFNZ members can enter to help identify top heifers to ensuring their full potential is used.
This is the first time genomic screening has been available, traditionally heifers were nominated and selected based on their ancestry.
LIC breeding manager, Allan McPherson said the introduction of genomic selection provides the programme with a huge boost by helping identify those heifers with the highest potential more accurately.
‘‘More accurate selection of heifers means a better chance of success from the programme and therefore a higher probability of positively impacting the breed,’’ he said.
‘‘ HFNZ members get access to LICs expertise and the best bulls for breeding and are now able to tap into the huge resource of genomics science that LIC has developed and invested millions of dollars into.’’
The project also allows their heifers to be benchmarked against other elite animals around the country, providing them with access to the latest reproductive technologies and the opportunity for their heifer to be recognised as a potential bull mother, Mr McPherson said.
HFNZ general manager Cherilyn Watson said genomics would further enhance the success the project has achieved over the last seven years.
‘‘Holstein Friesian New Zealand breeders are excited at the opportunity to get genomic information on the elite female heifers in their herds and see how the information translates when the heifers calve down and are milked for their first season,’’ she said.
‘‘We’ll follow the progress of these heifers through their first season in-milk and continue to monitor them over the next few seasons when they return to their home herds.’’
It will be interesting to see if the genomically selected heifers stand out from their herd mates, she said.
Heifers accepted into the programme are taken as in-calf two-year-olds from farms across the country, and brought together to a host farm in Te Awamutu for one season.
During this time, the heifers are herd tested eight times, condition scored regularly and evaluated on a range of criteria to help identify their true merit.
Farmers can now select up to five heifers to be genomically screened for the scheme, providing them with more confidence that only their best heifers are then selected to participate
Information from each screened heifer, regardless of whether they are accepted into the programme, is given back to the farmer for future reference
A current top bull for LIC, Westland CL Jasper, resulted from the inaugural season of the Discovery Project in 2004.
Jasper joined the 2010 Premier Sires bull team after receiving a successful daughter evaluation through the Sire Proving Scheme.
Allan McPherson said the Discovery Project has continued to provide sires for LIC with a number of bulls awaiting their daughter proofs at present or have already been selected for DNA proven teams.