Genomics: The Basics
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Genomics: The Basics

January 20, 2016
POSTED BY: Dave Erf | Geneticist | U.S. Dairy Technical Services | Zoetis

Genomic testing is changing the way dairy producers make herd management, selection and breeding decisions, and it can be applied to most dairies. A genomic test more accurately reveals a heifer’s potential early in life, allowing producers to accelerate genetic progress with confidence and enhance profitability by capitalizing on higher production and profit potential.

Think of applying genomic testing the same way you would think of vaccinating — a protocol you apply to every young heifer as part of an ongoing whole-herd improvement plan. In this case, it is a genetic plan. The purpose of the genetic plan is to identify, select and amplify genetics from the best group of heifers that possess traits to be efficient, productive herd members in the near future.

What is genomics?
Prior to genomics, the genetic evaluation process looked something like this: You have a young animal. The most you might know about it is the pedigree, such as the sire and the dam, so your information consists of a parent average. But there are a couple of key challenges with parent average. These include the following:

  • Parent average is not always readily available, particularly for calves out of first-calf heifers or those herds without good data systems.
  • Parentage can be incorrect (wrong sire, wrong dam, or wrong dam and sire) or missing.
  • Most importantly, parent average (or pedigree indexes) has low accuracy in young calves, as indicated by average traditional reliabilities of approximately 25% in Holsteins. This is after parentage has been corrected.

Because of the low reliability and challenges with parent average-based data, herd owners were not willing to make big decisions on heifer selection in the past, and often treated all heifers similarly in breeding and management decisions. Genomics has been a changing force.

With CLARIFIDE® genomic testing, genomics dives deeper than parent average. It goes to the DNA level to identify which genes (good or bad) animals received from their ancestry. This, in turn, can help producers make more confident management decisions, such as selling the bottom 15 percent of calves, as they have a low chance of becoming profitable cows.

How does it work?
CLARIFIDE genomic testing provides an animal’s genetic evaluation, giving producers the ability to look deeper into her future genetic potential to decide whether to keep or sell the heifer and how to prioritize the animal’s contribution to the next generation.

Picture your ideal cow. Is she a profitable milk cow? Does she have high fertility, good milk quality and high production potential?

Genomics looks at the DNA of a heifer so you can have a more accurate picture of how she will perform for you down the road. It doesn’t matter what your goals are. Genomic testing provides you all of the information, and then you decide which trait(s) to rank your animals on based on your goals.

What do you get out of genomics?
Genomic testing gives you confidence to make decisions for females at a very young age. It allows you to make decisions that help your dairy achieve more success.

Confidence is possible because genomics is more accurate than doing things the old-fashioned way when less information was available. The level of reliability achieved amongst genomic tested females is oftentimes far more than an average animal would ever achieve in her lifetime!

It costs a lot of money to raise replacement heifers. The high level of reliability allows you to be proactive and choose which heifers you want to raise and which ones you may want to sell. It also provides you the opportunity to identify a group of higher-potential heifers that you would benefit from by having more heifers out of them. In this case you could use sexed semen to get these heifers pregnant. Or in extreme cases, you could make her an embryo donor. These technologies help ensure you’ll stack the odds in your favor to get heifers out of these higher-potential heifers, rather than out of lower ranking heifers.

The CLARIFIDE test, available to Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss animals, makes genomic testing easy. And getting started is simple with the following steps:

  1. Call your local Zoetis representative or visit CLARIFIDE.com to order your CLARIFIDE test kit
  2. Establish a strategy for how you will use genomic results to meet your genetic improvement plan
  3. Take a DNA sample
  4. Submit and send the samples and required information for testing and analysis
  5. Rank animals based on your goals with the CLARIFIDE results you receive
  6. Apply your ranking to your strategy

CLARIFIDE delivers reliable predictions on a comprehensive suite of core production, type and health traits; key industry indexes; and parentage confirmation to more accurately predict genetic merit. Additionally, information on inbreeding, genetic conditions and haplotypes can help dairy producers make better mating decisions to improve upon breeding and reproductive strategies.

Why invest in genomic testing?
Producers are constantly tasked with doing more with less. This is exactly where genomics fit in — helping you be more efficient by doing more with less and speeding up genetic progress toward your goals.

You will find your investment in CLARIFIDE to become an indispensable part of your herd management and female selection strategies. With more confidence in genetic information, you’ll make better decisions today for a more profitable tomorrow.

This topic is part of a seven-part webinar series developed by Zoetis and Holstein Association USA as an educational resource for current and prospective CLARIFIDE® customers and Enlight™ users. Watch and learn for an introduction to genomics and proof that genomics works.

 

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