Genomic testing on the rise

Genomic testing of Australian dairy heifers has increased more than 60 percent in the past year, as farmers seek data to make more informed decisions about which replacements to keep, which ones to sell and how to make best use of sexed and beef semen.

Farmers are also looking for the reliable pedigree information that genomic testing delivers. Genomic testing analyses an animal’s DNA from a sample such as an ear tissue notch or tail hair to predict its future performance. The results can be used to rank animals on their Balanced Performance Index (BPI) as well as compare Australian Breeding Values(ABVs) for 50 traits, including fertility, mastitis resistance, longevity and heat tolerance.

Genomic testing is currently available for Holstein, Jersey and Holstein/Jersey cross animals. The reliability of genomic breeding values is the equivalent of having seven lactations of data - more than double those based on pedigree alone. DataGene Accelerating Genomics Project Leader Michelle Axford said collecting samples was easy and the information had multiple uses. “Farmers could save money on heifer rearing costs because the genomic information enables them to identify the animals that are most unlikely to perform and these could be sold,” she said. “It costs between $1,300-$2,500 to rear a heifer to two-years-old and genomic testing costs about $50 a sample, so making early decisions about these heifers can really save farmers money.”

Many dairy farmers also use genomic testing data to make more informed decisions about which animals to join to sexed or beef semen from their very first joining. This means next year’s calves are always from the best animals in your herd. Genomic testing of heifers can significantly fast-track genetic improvement with traits of importance such as fertility, longevity, mastitis resistance, heat tolerance, type orA2/A2.Mrs Axford said that genomic testing was also the easiest and most cost-efficient way to correct pedigree errors.

“About 20 per cent of Australia’s dairy calves are incorrectly identified at birth, and it becomes a bigger challenge in large herds with intense calving periods,” she said. “Testing is also a straightforward way to establish pedigrees in herds that do not have adequate records or do not have time to construct pedigrees. ”Genomic testing was developed by world class Australian scientists from DairyBio with data from Australian farms and cows. Results are independently generated by DataGene scientists and regularly validated. Farmers can access genomic testing via a genomic service provider. Those operating in Australia include: ABS Global Australia, Holstein Australia, Jersey Australia, Neogen, Semex, ST Genetics Australia, Total Livestock Genetics (TLG), Weatherbys Scientific Australia and Zoetis.

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