dairy calf© Tim Scrivener

Dairy farmers worried about a genetic anomaly in Holstein cattle, which causes calf deaths and was first detected this year, can now use a genetic tool to help prevent the defect from being introduced into the herd.

Haplotype cholesterol deficiency (HCD) was first discovered by German research scientists this summer and has been traced back to the prolific North American sire Maughlin Storm.

See also: Genetic abnormality found to cause calf deaths

When the defected gene is inherited from both parents it causes loss of appetite and body condition in calves, combined with chronic/prolonged diarrhoea that is unresponsive to medical treatment, which eventually leads to death between three weeks and six months after birth.

However, a new tool from Genus ABS could help farmers select the bulls that carry the affecting gene, ensuring the risk of transmitting it to herds is eliminated. 

Genetic Management System can analyse up to seven generations of an animal’s pedigree and is believed to be the only genetic selection tool available to protect against haplotype carrier matings.

Due to the seriousness of HCD, the company will not only treat all confirmed carriers of HCD, but will also treat any bulls suspected of carrying the trait, as if they were actual carriers.

Data suggests that between 4.4% and 6% of the Holstein breed are either carriers or suspected carriers and according to Holstein USA, the economic impact of HCD is estimated to be approximately £297 a case (this figure includes the value of a calf, cost of raising a calf and associated medical treatment).