Cow and Heifer Genomics
Genomic testing is the process of analysing a heifer's DNA - such as in ear tissue or a tail hair - to reliably predict her future performance in the herd.
Genomics can be conducted as early as birth, so farmers can make informed decisions about a heifer’s role in their herd. DNA samples are easy to collect and can be taken at the same time as routine husbandry procedures, such as ear tagging or disbudding.
Have questions on heifer genomics?
Want to hear what fellow farmers who are already using the technology have to say? Now you can, through a Dairy Australia podcast special event.
Dairy farmers can have their questions on heifer genomics answered in the upcoming Top tips to get started with genomics podcast, which will be released in early October.
To help prepare for the podcast, farmers are being encouraged to email their questions on heifer genomics to firstname.lastname@example.org
You ask, we answer on heifer genomics
Below are some commonly asked questions about heifer genomics that have been submitted and answered by our experts.
Frequently asked questions
Q: I have just bought some heifers and am wondering if I can still genomic test them, even though I know nothing about their pedigree?
Yes, you can still genomic test these heifers. The reliability of the Australian Breeding Values (ABVs) generated will be lower than if the pedigree was known. For example, providing the correct sire can improve the reliability of an animals Balanced Performance Index (BPI) by up to about 15%.
How genomic testing works
Genomic testing allows farmers to:
Save money on rearing costs by not rearing heifers that are unlikely to perform.
Make more informed decisions on which heifers to sell, when using sexed/beef semen and when purchasing females.
Significantly fast-track genetic improvement in the herd for traits of importance such as fertility, type or A2/A2.
In herds where no surplus heifers are available, farmers may also consider selling less desirable heifers and replacing them with higher quality, genotyped heifers. If using this approach, it is important to consider the biosecurity risks associated with purchasing animals.
Genomic testing is an important tool for accurately determining animal identification and parentage and reducing pedigree errors that are known to occur in around 15% of animals. 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.
The reliability of genomic testing of heifers at a young age is the equivalent of having data from seven lactations (Figure 1). Compared with breeding values based on pedigree alone, this is more than double the reliability.
Figure 1. Reliabilities of genomic ABVs for heifers and 7th lactation Holstein cows (source DataGene, 2017).
Currently, genomic testing can be done for any Holstein, Jersey, or Jersey-Holstein cross animal whose sire has an Australian Breeding Value (ABV).
The use of genomic testing of dairy heifers is rapidly increasing in Australia. The most recent data shows that over the past 12 months, commercial genotyping of females in Australia rose by more than 60% compared to the total number in 2018/19.
Dairy genomic technology was initially developed in research programs by world class Australian scientists utilising data from more than 30,000 genotyped animals, 30 years of progeny testing, herd recording, type classification and genetic evaluation programs. These research programs, including DairyBio, were funded by Dairy Australia.
How to collect samples
Samples for genomic testing are easy to collect and can be taken at the same time as routine husbandry procedures such as ear tagging or disbudding. To obtain Tissue Sample Units (TSUs) and pliers or hair sample cards, contact your genomic service provider.
Figure 2. Collecting an ear tissue sample for genomic testing using a Tissue Sampling Unit (TSU)
Farmer case studies
The case studies below are designed to demonstrate how Australian farmers are implementing heifer genomic testing in their own businesses.
DataGene is an independent and industry-owned organisation that is responsible for developing modern tools and resources to drive genetic gain and herd improvement in the Australian dairy industry, through research, development, and extension activities.
For more information about genomics, visit the DataGene website.