Big­ger de­mand for cow DNA test­ing


Farmer-owned co-op­er­a­tive LIC has seen an in­crease in de­mand for its DNA parent­age test­ing ser­vice as live­stock farm­ers place in­creas­ing em­pha­sis on cow qual­ity over cow quan­tity.

This spring, up­wards of 250,000 calves from around the coun­try will have their parent­age con­firmed by LIC’s DNA parent­age ser­vice which op­er­ates from its lab­o­ra­tory in Hamil­ton.

So far this year, the co­op­er­a­tive has had on av­er­age one new herd a day sign up to its DNA parent­age ser­vice.

LIC’s Gen­eral Man­ager of NZ Mar­kets, Mal­colm El­lis, says the in­creased de­mand re­flects the in­dus­try’s new re­al­ity of “peak cow”.

“Our in­dus­try is chang­ing rapidly. Cow pop­u­la­tion in New Zealand has re­mained static in re­cent years, so farm­ers are in­creas­ingly aware that if they can’t gen­er­ate in­come by milk­ing more cows, they need to be milk­ing bet­ter cows.”

The op­por­tu­nity to use DNA parent­age test­ing within the dairy in­dus­try en­ables farm­ers to iden­tify the best calves to keep as herd re­place­ments.

Mr El­lis says calv­ing is a crit­i­cal time of year for farm­ers to man­age fu­ture herd pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“With the cost of breed­ing a re­place­ment sit­ting at around $1600 per an­i­mal, it’s im­por­tant that farm­ers bring in the new sea­son’s calves with con­fi­dence.

“Con­fi­dence in parent­age is a key com­po­nent to tak­ing a farm’s herd im­prove­ment plan to the next level,” he said.

Waikato farmer Liz John­son says DNA parent­age test­ing has helped her im­prove the pro­duc­tiv­ity of her farm.

“We now look for the ge­net­i­cally proven cow, rather than the max­i­mum num­ber.

“The main ad­van­tage is mon­i­tor­ing the parent­age be­tween each sire and dam and keep­ing the best heifers.”

One of the big­gest chal­lenges for farm­ers dur­ing calv­ing sea­son is the time needed to mon­i­tor and ac­cu­rately record calv­ing de­tails con­sis­tently for a sus­tained pe­riod of time. It’s com­mon for one in four calves to be mis-moth­ered.

“DNA test­ing has made calv­ing time much eas­ier to man­age.

“We can’t be there 24 hours a day for every birth. This takes the pres­sure off the team be­cause we know the tech­nol­ogy has got us cov­ered,” says Mrs John­son.

Mr El­lis says con­firm­ing a calf’s parent­age is a sim­ple task for farm­ers, but a tech­ni­cal process be­hind the scenes.

“To be­gin the process, farm­ers take a tis­sue sam­ple from a calf’s ear, and then send the sam­ple to LIC’s di­ag­nos­tics lab where the DNA is ex­tracted and an­a­lysed.”

The lab uses en­zymes ex­tracted from bac­te­ria liv­ing in ther­mal hot pools to di­gest the tis­sue away and free the DNA from the nu­cleus of the cells.

Mi­cro­scopic metal beads coated with binders cap­ture the DNA and iso­late it us­ing mag­nets.

“At the end of the process, the sam­ples from each an­i­mal are mi­cro­scopic,” he said.

“They’re smaller than the head of a pin but that’s got every bit of in­for­ma­tion we need to de­ter­mine the parent­age.”

Once the lab has gen­er­ated a unique ge­netic marker pro­file or DNA fin­ger­print for a calf, this is com­pared against the pro­files of the po­ten­tial dams and sires to ac­cu­rately iden­tify its parent­age.

The mark­ers within the ge­netic pro­file have been care­fully se­lected from the three bil­lion DNA base pairs which make up the bovine genome.

To date, more than 2.4 mil­lion sam­ples have been pro­cessed by LIC since it be­gan G3 DNA pro­fil­ing in 2009.

The parent­age test­ing can also be com­bined with other tests, such as a gene test which iden­ti­fies what cows pro­duce A2/A2 milk and a test that de­tects the BVD virus in in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals.

Sam­ples from more than 380 an­i­mals are on this sil­i­cone chip, ready to be an­a­lysed.

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