Many commercial dairy producers rely on semen supply companies to take care of the genetic improvements in their herds.
Sue DeNise of the animal health company Zoetis said genomic testing heifers could help producers introduce improvements at an even faster pace than relying mostly on new bulls.
“We are trying to educate producers on how much value they are leaving behind by not taking advantage of all the technology that is available,” she told the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference held in Calgary Sept. 15-18.
Zoetis offers genomic tests for beef and dairy cattle as part of the business plan it has developed since be-coming a separate company from Pfizer Animal Health last year.
Sixty-five percent of Zoetis’s business is derived from livestock health and welfare products.
Commercial genetic tests for improved animal selection is a growing part of the business.
The company is working with purebred Angus associations in the United States and Australia to build a genetic database to help producers more accurately predict a young bull’s ability to pass on certain characteristics to progeny. The tests can also scan for genetic diseases.
However, big strides have also occurred on the dairy side, where adoption of genomic testing is more widespread and is showing a greater return.
The company has created a program with the Canadian Dairy Network and Holstein Canada to help producers make better decisions based on traits valued in this country.
“It is a really powerful tool if producers are really interested in trying to make genetic progress,” DeNise said.
Most dairy producers are interested in more milk production, reduced feed costs and healthy cows rather than studying genomic results that come with a lot of numbers and scores that are hard to understand.
However, DeNise said genomic information can pay.
“If you are an individual dairy producer who has to make decisions about dairy heifers that have just been born, you are really lacking all the tools you need to make the best decisions,” she said.
Heifers raised under similar conditions are not always equal. Knowing which has the most potential to yield better than average results can help a producer decide which animals should be culled, used as embryo recipients or enter an embryo transfer program.
From there, a producer can use sexed semen from proven bulls so that a high performing dairy heifer can replace itself.
On average, heifers should have greater genetic merit than cows. Not all heifers are better than the cows already in the herd.
In the American dairy system, a cow has to produce 31,000 pounds of milk in a year to cover costs of the first lactation, including feed costs, pregnancy and milk production.
Once replacements have been selected for economically valuable traits, the next step for genomics will focus on improving health and wellness of the stock.