At the 2016 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit, Jonathan Lamb of Oakfield Corners Dairy and Dr. Chad Dechow from Penn State University teamed up to discuss the impact of genomics on commercial dairy herds.
Dechow held the seminar as an open session for producers to express their concerns as well as how they use genomics within their operations. He emphasized that producers must identify what is most important to them and their herd, urging them to use genomics as a management tool in areas such as semen usage, heifer culling and mating decisions.
Semen usage can be altered to use sexed semen on only top genomic testing heifers and young cows. Beef semen can be used as an alternative on lower testing heifers as a way to maximize strong genetics in the herd.
Testing replacement heifers to identify the best individuals in the herd and culling the bottom end of the herd can produce some economic payback. The amount of this is dependent on market prices and economy strength. How each farm executes their heifer culling protocol is dependent on the goals of each operation.
Better mating decisions can be made to avoid inbreeding and make decisions on corrective mating. Inbreeding affects the bottom line, and reducing the amount of inbreeding within the herd can be a profitable measure. In making decisions on corrective matings, distributions can be used to identify areas of least risk.
Lamb said, “We are making progress because we are able to identify high-quality genetics quickly.”
However, he cautioned that just because a piece of paper may say that a particular animal is the best in the herd, common sense is still important to be used. For example, a heifer could have high genomic numbers, but if she is a chronic pneumonia heifer, is she truly the best in the herd?
Dechow emphasized the largest impact genomics can have in a commercial herd is through learning and knowing about dairy cows and their genetics. Breeding and calving records can often be filed incorrectly, with approximately 20 percent misidentified sires occurring. Through genomic testing, pedigree information can be confirmed. In addition, producers can learn and compare their herd to others, as well as discover if the herd’s performance is impacted by its genetics or the management.
Learning about a herd through genomics can be as valuable as selective breeding and culling. For the best results, genomic data must be used consistently with a solid strategy developed to fit each farm’s herd in order to make it pay for the commercial herd. PD
Caitlyn Pool is an agricultural student at Penn State University.