Oct. 8 2014 09:45 AM

WDE seminar provides insight to success with genomics

"It's a no brainer," remarked Matt Nuckols, a registered Holstein breeder from Virginia and a panelist at the genomics seminar. Extra cattle value and the ability to make more informed herd decisions are the primary reasons he shared.
Nuckols' Eastview Farm uses genomics to sort the herd by testing all females in the 120-cow herd. Results help determine which heifers will be recipients, bred traditionally, bred with sexed semen or will be flushed.

The herd uses genomic bulls exclusively, yet spreads the risk, using only 10 units of any bull. "Genomic bulls may go up or down a bit, but on average, they will still do better than the average of 10 hand-picked bulls," conveyed Nuckols.

"The conformation in our herd has tremendously improved with genomics," said Nuckols. The type data is more reliable now." Herds can quickly improve type by utilizing the genomic linear trait profiles on genomic bulls.

Greg Andersen of Seagull Bay Dairy in Idaho milks 2,000 cows. His herd's genetics rank among today's top sires, thanks to genomics. The herd tests the elite Holsteins and focuses on choosing bulls with the highest Net Merit, Total Performance Index (TPI), and pounds of protein. The highest females become donors and top bulls are sold to A.I. Similar criteria is used when purchasing females to add to the herd.

When comparing young sires to proven sires, Andersen reflected on the value of reliability in genomic proofs. "The top proven bulls are really darn good bulls. But, it is not fair to compare them to genomic young sires straight across the board." He uses mostly genomic young sires, with few proven bulls. For those wanting to grow their herd or those with too many head, genomics can help determine which ones to add to the herd or cull.

Jersey breeder, Bob Bignami of California, (pictured) was named the American Jersey Association's Master Breeder in 2007. His 1,600 registered Jersey herd started genomic testing with a "shotgun" method, but then transitioned to testing every calf born. Currently, 30 to 60 females are tested each month, continuing to search for the very best of their best.

When Bignami looks at bulls to use in the herd, he still selects on pedigree first. Then he examines genomic data on his traits of interest to make final choices. This helps narrow down their options for mating sires.

Type characteristics need to go with production. "I wish I paid more attention to type," shared Bignami. "Look for the type traits that can handle the added production that they have been bred to produce." Genomics have helped boost butterfat percent by almost half a percent across the Brentwood herd.

Bennett Cassell, retired Virginia Tech professor and long-time Hoard's Dairyman columnist, served as the moderator for the seminar that was sponsored by the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding. The entire presentation can be watched below.

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The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.