A topic that has garnered attention throughout the past few years has been the nation’s dairy genetic evaluation system and how it would change when control of genetic evaluations transferred to the dairy industry. The Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB), a multi-entity organization, began working on a plan to ensure the sustainability and future of the dairy genetic evaluation system.

On March 27, 2013, representatives of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the CDCB signed the final version of the Non-funded Cooperative Agreement (NFCA), a final measure allowing for the transition of service components, such as data collection and genetic evaluation calculation and distribution, to transition from the USDA-ARS to the CDCB.

“Essentially, the goal of the CDCB was to take the service portion that was becoming exponentially high,” CDCB Chair Ole Meland says. “The council will provide the service mechanisms, and AIPL will continue to do the research they are world-renowned and world-respected for.”

Meland, who worked on the agreement with the USDA-ARS and signed the final version, explains that coming up with language in the agreement that everyone was comfortable with took time.

From drafting to signing
In October of 2009, the council formed the Dairy Data Working Group (DDWG) subcommittee in order to assure that high-quality genetic evaluations for the U.S. dairy industry would be available well into the future.


A few of the group’s specific duties included reviewing future data needs, the best service structure for securing data and calculating and distributing genetic evaluations, and allocation of financial responsibilities.

“Some of the goals of the DDWG included looking into the long-term sustainability of the genetic evaluation system, as well as getting more data and better-quality data into the system,” Meland says.

The DDWG met and developed industry-based recommendations, one of which was to draft a new non-funded cooperative agreement between the USDA-ARS and the CDCB.

After ongoing discussion and debate, a revised draft of the agreement was presented to the council in October of 2012. It was at this point that Meland began working with the USDA-ARS on the final version of the agreement.

With the agreement now signed, a period begins in which some aspects of the national dairy genetic evaluation system, including the control of the calculation and distribution of genetic evaluations, transitions from the USDA-ARS to the CDCB.

Responsibilities and responsible parties
The agreement delineates the responsibilities and the entities responsible for certain aspects of the dairy genetic evaluation system.

Among other responsibilities, the Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory (AIPL), which is the part of the USDA-ARS that discovers and develops improved methods for the genetic and genomic evaluation of economically important traits of dairy animals, will be responsible for the following items:

• Developing analysis procedures for calculation of genetic evaluations in order to compute estimates of genetic merit of dairy animals. The data used in these evaluations will come from the national database.

• Determining when information and potential benefit is sufficient to develop AIPL algorithms for new traits

The following are a few of CDCB’s responsibilities as outlined in the agreement:

• Continuing to collect phenotypic, genomic and proteomic data

• Editing and maintaining collected data

• Maintaining and controlling the national database

• Distributing estimates of genetic merit

• Supplying its own email addresses, web addresses and Internet connection

The transition begins
The transition of the calculation and distribution of dairy genetic evaluations began with the April evaluations. Did you notice anything different?

Meland explains that producers most likely didn’t notice a difference in the April evaluations because the information was presented and delivered the same way it has been in the past.

Internally though, the transition had already begun. The information used for the genetic evaluations was housed and distributed from the CDCB’s website. A more noticeable change for April 2013 was that genomic evaluations were able to be obtained on males and females.

“Before, you had to be one of the NAAB (National Association of Animal Breeders) organizations to get a male run,” Meland says. “Now anyone can run them.”

A fee schedule is also currently available on the council’s website . Revenue collected from the fees will be used to help offset costs related to producing genetic evaluations, maintaining the database and providing management benchmarks.

“The fee structure is such that the more better-quality data you submit, the more cost-effective it is for you to genomically test an animal,” Meland says.

Because the agreement was only signed in late March, the council currently does not have permanent employees.

However, in order to help start the transition beginning with the April evaluations, the council opted for two interim positions – Duane Norman as the CDCB interim administrator and Leigh Walton as the CDCB interim technical applications manager.

“The beauty of this is that Duane used to be the program leader for USDA-AIPL and Leigh was the one that basically ran the program that actually calculated genetic evaluations,” Meland says. “The learning curve was extremely accelerated, so it really gave the council the opportunity to get up and get running.”

Other changes with CDCB
In addition to the signing of the agreement, other happenings at the CDCB included changes to the council’s governance structure.

“We changed the bylaws and added three new seats to the council,” Meland says. “Dairy Record Processing Centers (DRPCs) now have three seats on the council.”

Previously, the governance structure was composed of representatives from three sector associations – the National Association of Animal Breeders, the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association (PDCA) and the Dairy Herd Information Association (DHIA).

With the addition of DRPCs as a fourth member, the CDCB consists of representatives from the four sectors, with each sector having three voting directors.

Another change to the bylaws allowed for the creation of two non-voting advisory directors to come from allied industry. Meland explains that if certain criteria are met, there is a possibility the two advisory seats could move to voting status in the future.

“Organizations that are not currently represented on the council can apply for these non-voting advisory seats,” Meland says. “We believe that any group that wants to be represented on the council can be represented, so it’s inclusive, not exclusive.”

Genetic evaluations and the future
Although the transition process has only begun, the non-funded cooperative agreement provides a pathway for the future of genetic evaluations and the roles the USDA-ARS and the CDCB will fulfill in securing the system’s future.

“Going forward, the council has the goal of growing the types of data able to be used for genetic evaluations as well as trying to improve the quality of the data,” he says.

With the national database now under the council’s control, Meland says the council hopes producers will feel comfortable submitting sensitive kinds of data such as mastitis data, Johne’s data or reproductive data. PD

Visit their website or email the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding for additional information.


Dario Martinez
Progressive Dairyman