Genomic selection available by end of year

UK farmers will be able to use genomic selection by the end of the year, according to Marco Winters, director of DairyCo’s breeding+.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly at the British Cattle Breeders Club Conference, Telford, he said a lot of work was happening behind the scenes to make genomics available to cattle producers.

“By the end of the year producers will be able to use genomic evaluation on their own animals at an estimated cost of £50 a cow.” Genotype will also be included with every bull’s breeding index.

Initially genomic evaluation will only be available for Holsteins because of a greater level of resources. However over time this will develop to include other breeds.

DairyCo is currently seeking international players to help increase the bank of genetic information needed to develop a genomic key including 10,000 genotypes. This key will then be used as a marker to which an individual animal’s genetic make up can be compared.

This can be used to predict an individual animal’s performance from a young age – a tool which will be available to cattle farmers wanting to make faster genetic gain.

“To develop this key on our own would cost £1.5m so we need to work in collaboration with others,” Mr Winters explained.

“This bank of information will then be based on UK information, but build on an international resource population.”

The future of genomics in the UK is looking bright, but national and international collaboration is essential, agreed Mike Coffey, leader of dairy cattle breeding at the SAC.

“Both SAC and DairyCo are undertaking a lot to get genomics up and running in the UK. EBLEX is also working to collect beef phenotypes.”

All the milk recording companies are collecting phenotypic information, along with DairyCo and Holstein UK. Cogent and Genus are also collating genotypic data – all of which will be used to create the genomic key.

However, Dr Coffey said to further exploit the benefits of genomics in the future, it was essential to consider new phenotypes, such as feed intakes, greenhouse gas emissions and diseases.

“Genomics doesn’t mean less recording – in fact to make greater use of this new technology, we need better recording to get more phenotypes. We need to think about how we can do this.”

And as more and more animals are selected, so the relationship of the general cattle population will vary to the genomic key, meaning it must be continuously re-calibrated – this again makes continuous recording a must.

And he stressed genomics was useless without the basics. “Pertinent breeding goals become even more important when using genomics because you are going to get there a lot quicker – selection pressure should be focused on health and fertility.

“Genomics is a technology which is coming out fast and will entail changes in the way we work. There is no doubt it will create a lot of benefits, but when not used right will also create a lot of problems – speed is both a threat and an opportunity.”

Dr Coffey also recognised the fact genomics would be used differently within the beef and dairy industries because of how each sector was structured. “The dairy industry uses a lot of AI with many well proven bulls and collects a wide range of phenotypic date through milk recording. However the beef industry is less connected.”

To improve the amount of information available to drive genomics in the beef sector, he encouraged producers to record sire ID on cattle passports.