Genomics ready for take off in the coming months

IF uptake of genomic bulls mirrors that seen in other countries following the launch of official evaluations, then the impact of the April 2012 introduction on this country’s Holstein breeding will be significant.

This is the view of John Foster of Bullsemen.com, whose experiences of earlier-adopting countries, which including Italy, Ireland, USA and several in eastern Europe, suggest no lack of confidence in genomics and a strong appetite for new young bulls with good indices.

Most pertinent of all is the feedback from Italy where genomic evaluations were introduced by ANAFI (Italian Holstein Association) just three months ago in December 2011.

Like the UK, Italy is working in collaboration with the USA and Canada (pooling genetic information) to make genomic evaluations as reliable as possible.


“Uptake has been significant in Italy in a short space of time, with genomic bulls already accounting for approximately 30 per cent of Holstein semen sales,” says Mr Foster.

“This is consistent with what I have seen in some other European countries, whereas in Germany and Scandinavia it is around 40 per cent and in the USA the proportion of total Holstein semen sales which are genomic bulls is now as high as 50 per cent.

“Right across the world, dairy farmers are showing a real enthusiasm for this new concept and are taking opportunities to potentially increase their rate of breeding progress. I can see no reason for the situation to be any different in the UK.”

Right across the world, dairy farmers are showing a real enthusiasm for this new concept

John Foster

Mr Foster says most dairy farmers selecting bulls are familiar with the concept of reliability and this is the key point with genomic evaluations.

“We are talking about a three to four year advance in the uptake of the very latest genetics,” he says.

“Given the level of uptake, which suggests genomic bulls are being used at levels similar to bulls with first crop daughter proofs, the impact is going to be sizeable.”

Confidence in genomic proofs is certain to grow if figures prove to be robust once a bull has sufficient milking daughters.

Feedback from the dairy breeding co-operative CRI – a company leading the way in genomics in the US – is so far proving very encouraging.

CRI has over 250 bulls with published genomic evaluations as well as milking daughters, and the comparative data shows the very close correlation between Lifetime Net Merit (equivalent to UK £PLI), production and type figures.


Mr Foster says, in simple terms, the data shows genomic proofs are reliable and underlines the potential of gaining several years in genetic improvement terms.

One good example, which will be familiar to UK dairy farmers, is Charlesdale Superstition (Super), one of the highest TPI Holsteins currently available in the UK.

A Boliver son and O-Bee Manfred Justice grandson, Super is already used internationally as a sire of sons. Super was one of the first top sires with sufficient daughter numbers to allow comparisons to be made between their genomic and progeny-based figures.

“We’ve seen his £PLI and production rise since he had his first progeny proof, moving closer to his genomic proof,” says Mr Foster, “and similar can be said about his daughter fertility and lifespan.

“However, whether genomically derived or based on progeny, it is still vital to maintain minimum selection standards for the key criteria of £PLI, type merit and production when choosing bulls.”

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