Dairy farming

Using genomics for breeding decisions

What decisions do I have to make?

1. Do you need/want her?

The first thing to establish is, do you need this cow? This means looking at the status of your herd, knowing your necessary culling rate, and then your replacement rate to consider your plans for future herd size. The next step is looking at your heifer inventory; how many animals you need to fulfil your desired replacement rate.

Once you know how many animals you have surplus to requirements, you can then think whether you want the cow. Keeping surplus animals is a huge cost, not to mention the income lost by not realising the sale value and added cash flow of these animals.

The questions you should consider are; is this animal fit for the future objectives of my herd? Does she have all the traits I require to ensure that she is not only productive, but also has the potential to fulfil that productive life, by remaining healthy.

Do not assume that all your heifers are automatically better than your cows, some cows will have better genetics than some of your heifers. It is however a reasonable assumption that the average heifer will be genomically superior to your average cows due to the improvement in genomically tested bulls over the last few years.

2. Do you want her offspring in the herd?

Once you have decided you want her to be part of your future, the next stage is to think about how big a part you would like her to play. If she is suitable enough for your plans, do you want a daughter from her? If the answer is yes, then sexed semen is the logical next step. If the answer is you want a lot more like her in the herd, you should be considering advanced breeding techniques, like embryo transfer..

3. Which do sire do you want to breed her to?

It is important to remember on your dairy farm; the bull comes last and not first! You have decided you want a cow in your herd and that you want her offspring. Now it’s time to play match maker and select the bull that is going to make the next generation into the animals you want.

By selecting the bull without knowing your cow’s genomic potential you are only giving yourself half the information you need to make the decisions to get to where you want to go. You don’t need to fill the AI flask with a bull for every occasion, but ensure you have a select few that will fit with your goals, be that dairy, beef, sexed or conventional and stick to your strategy of breeding the best animals for you.

How do I choose my animals?

To choose the right animals we need to understand their potential and their ability to stay productive throughout their lifetime by improving their ability to realise that potential.

There are a few methods to select animals, but only genomic testing gives you the reliability to know how much potential your animal has and how good her offspring are likely to be.

Genomic testing gives you the ability to have your animals ranked from top to bottom. There are several rankings available such as £Productive Lifetime Index (£PLI) is a UK index which will give you an idea of which animals have the potential to be the most profitable animals for you. The index Dairy Wellness Profit (DWP) is only available with CLARIFIDE Plus, gives you the ranking of which animals are likely to go on and fulfil their potential by considering their wellness as well as productivity.

CLARIFIDE consultancy also enables you to rank your animals on what is important to you and create a bespoke farm ranking to ensure you are investing in your best.

Once you have your ranking it is then possible to make your breeding decisions using the questions above, for example;

I'm an expanding herd or can't sell my animals

Some farmers assume if they must keep all their animals then there is no need to understand their genomic potential as they will be in the herd anyway, so you’ve got what you’ve got. This is very much a myth, you have answered question one of the breeding decisions, but you can still impact your future by understanding if you want the offspring to drive your future.

For example, animals that are no longer a saleable asset, but are low ranked on your farm could potentially be recipients for embryos from your top animals. The next generation is then out of your better animals leading to a faster genetic improvement. There is also still a role for beef animals as these can represent a cash crop for you;

How do I get involved?

For more information on CLARIFIDE and CLARIFIDE Plus visit www.clarifide.co.uk or speak to your NMR representative. Zoetis has also partnered with veterinary practices to create a network of highly-trained vets. By choosing CLARIFIDE, you can access this expertise, making sure that you and your farm get the most benefit from CLARIFIDE testing.