Dairy farming

What is Genomics?

Genomics and Genetics

Genetics and genomics are terms that are used regularly in modern life, once upon a time it was associated with laboratory techniques and negative press. Now, many people are using genomic tests to find out their ancestry, their tolerance to caffeine and alcohol and their predisposition to certain diseases.

We also can do the same for animals, to understand their ability to be productive and remain healthy. This leads to obvious advantages with regards to food safety, resource usage, environmental protection and reduction in the use of medicines, while providing the protein we need to feed an expanding population.

What is the difference between the terms?

  • Genetics is the study of genes, genetic variation & heredity in living organisms, it tends to relate to individual genes and their role in inheritance
  • Genomics is the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution and mapping of genomes. It considers the whole genome, i.e. all genes, and their inter-relationships to identify their combined influence on the growth and development of the animal

Therefore, genomics is of interest from both a wellness and production perspective. It gives us the ability to reliably predict how an animal will perform in its environment by examining the slight differences in the genes the animal has.

Cattle and Genomics

Cattle have 22,000 genes which make up the blueprint for building every cell in their body, 80% of these are shared with humans. It is important to understand the differences that these genes make between the cattle themselves.

These differences are essentially copying errors that have occurred in the gene, which have led to different traits which can be seen in the animal, including confirmation, colour, production, reproduction and resilience to disease or “wellness”.

Genetic improvement is at the core of a comprehensive plan to build and sustain profitable dairy production. Genetic improvement has always been used on farms by selective breeding and using sires that have traits which are favourable, this however is a slow process.  Genomics gives us the opportunity to increase the speed of genetic gain rapidly and allows us to understand the potential of each heifer to determine how successful and profitable an animal will be in different environments and farm types.

Why genomically test my heifers?

Your heifers are very valuable to you and will drive the future of your farm, but knowing which ones fit with your plans is unreliable without using genomic testing. Testing is simple, a sample from either an ear notch or from a hair pluck can be taken from birth. The results give you a reliable prediction on how that animal is going to perform on your farm and how it’s offspring will perform in the future.

The likelihood is most of the sires you are using for AI are genomically tested to provide robust data from a young fertile age.  Why would you consider only knowing half of the story of the animals you are producing for the future of your farm? Only by testing the females too, do you get the complete picture. Those farms that are embracing both sire and female genomics are outperforming the farms who are not using genomics and those only using sire genomics.

With parent average giving you around 30% reliability as to how the heifer may perform, one genomic test can give you a 70% prediction of her future – it would take at least 8 years of production data to come up with the same information.

Having the information to accurately select which heifers you want to be the future of your herd means you can make proactive rearing and breeding decisions. This can result in reduced costs and potentially an improved cash flow.

Genomics testing via CLARIFIDE and CLARIFIDE Plus is for every dairy farmer who wants to secure their future with a productive, profitable and healthy herd.

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.