Oct. 20 2015 08:31 AM

Genomic testing can benefit a dairy if the results are utilized; one Idaho dairyman shared his thoughts on the use of this technology on farm.

When the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) held its annual meeting late last month in Madison, Wis., genomic testing was a major topic of discussion. A buzzword within the dairy industry today, individuals on both the business and research sides spoke about the technology and how it's changing. The final speaker of the day was John Anderson, manager of Double A Dairy, who talked about putting the technology to use on their 14,700-cow dairy farm in Idaho.

In his opinion, "Things [with genomics] are moving fast. We're making good progress in a short amount of time," he said.

Early on, the biggest benefit of genomic testing on their dairy has been dam and sire verification. "As we've done more genetic testing, we realize the importance of identification," he said. "We now realize how very important it is to get a tag in a calf's ear early on."

Anderson said that while they occasionally had a swapped calf, a majority of the misidentification was actually on the sire side, caused by a misstep that happened somewhere between breeding and when the information was recorded. The farm is now running about 95 percent accuracy on animal identification, which is quite a bit better than the industry average that hovers around 14 percent.

Now that identification is under control, what's next for Double A Dairy?

"Our challenge now is, what do we do with low heifers to make our farm more profitable?" Anderson said. He shared with the audience some options they are considering: cull low heifers to remove their genetics from the herd; use good bulls on all animals to improve their genetics; use sexed semen on top-end heifers and implant embryos or use beef semen on lower tier heifers; or do embryo transfer on high-end animals.

Another common question farmers ask is what percentage of heifers they should test. "It has to be up the individual producer," he explained. Double A Dairy currently tests all calves. Will that continue? Anderson said he's not sure yet.

What he does know is that, "Genomics can be a great tool in helping manage your herd." Dairy producers, including Anderson, just have to determine how the technology can best benefit their operation. "Each producer must decide how they will use the information they get back," he said.

Abby blog footerThe author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master's degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor's from University of Wisconsin-Madison.