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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Improving Genetic Predictions in Dairy Animals Using Phenotypic and Genomic Information

Location: Animal Genomics and Improvement Laboratory

Title: We are making inroads on health and fitness traits

Authors
item Parker Gaddis, K
item Maltecca, C
item Cole, John

Submitted to: Hoard's Dairyman
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: June 4, 2013
Publication Date: July 1, 2013
Citation: Parker Gaddis, K.L., Maltecca, C., Cole, J.B. 2013. We are making inroads on health and fitness traits. Hoard's Dairyman. 158(12):455.

Interpretive Summary: Many people in the scientific community are working on the problem of how to best improve the health and fitness of dairy cattle. However, they can¹t do it alone. There are several things that herd managers can do to improve the health of their animals. If herd management software permits, they should opt-in to send their health event data to their dairy records processing center; this will help by increasing the number of records available for analysis. Research suggests that recording patterns change when employees change, which introduces noise into the system. Health traits should be included in genetic programs. Expectations should be kept reasonable. The low heritability of health traits means that it will take consistent application of a focused genetic program over many years to achieve major changes, but those gains are cumulative. There are no shortcuts! Traits with low heritabilities can be changed, but it takes time. The use of genomics may help by shortening the generation interval and increasing the selection intensity, but requires high-reliability breeding values as inputs.

Technical Abstract: Dairy producers have used genetic selection to make dramatic improvements in milk and components yields over the past 50 years. Production traits are easy to measure, have relatively high heritabilities, and are directly tied to the financial success of the farm enterprise. The increasing importance of health and fitness traits with low heritabilities but high economic values is supported by the continued shift in emphasis from production to health and fitness traits in the lifetime net merit index. However, efforts to improve the population genetically are hampered by inconsistent data recording, concern about data privacy and ownership, and the lack of a national database in which health data are routinely deposited. There are several things that herd managers can do to improve the health of their animals, including transmission of their health event data to their dairy records processing center, consistently recording traits over time, and including health traits in genetic programs.The use of genomics may help by shortening the generation interval and increasing the selection intensity, but requires high-reliability breeding values as inputs.

Last Modified: 10/30/2014
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