Genomics accurately predicts class rank

Hoard's Dairyman: 

Genomics accurately predicts class rank

Date: 
Mon, 07/25/2011

“I became a believer in genomics when I saw how it consistently predicted how young, nonprogeny-tested bulls would rank to one another,” Charlie Will, manager of Select Sires’ Holstein sire selection group told those attending Wisconsin Holstein Association’s Genomics Forum on July 21. “In the past three years, we have learned that the numbers may change slightly when young bulls get progeny proofs, but the rank to one another rarely changes,” he said. Will then went on to show examples of how genomic predictions accurately predicted TPI (Total Performance Index), health traits, and type rank among bulls before and after progeny test information. “Genomic-tested bulls in the top quartile might shift around some, but they never drop to the low quartile. Likewise, genomic tested bulls in the bottom quartile never come to the top after progeny test.”

One-time genomic skeptic Tom Schmitt of Morningview Holsteins in Durango, Iowa, now believes genomics is an effective tool after seeing it work on his farm. He initially began using the selection tool after it became apparent it was the only way he would continue to secure A.I. contracts for young males, but now he believes it is a tool he cannot go without. “There was a pair of three full sisters on my farm. After I got the genomic predictions back, the test told me the shorter sibling, with the round shoulders, but showing plenty of strength would be the best of the flush. I just didn’t believe it at first, he said. “Then they calved. The genomic test was correct; that short heifer ended up having more strength and width, a higher, wider rear udder, and simply gave more milk,” said Schmitt. “Today I use the genomic test to sort out which heifers I will work with in my flush program. It has been very accurate.”

“Producers can use genomics to do much more than fill A.I. contracts,” said Jay Jauquet, a regional sire analyst with Alta Genetics and whose family owns a 300-cow dairy in Pulaski, Wis. “If you want to breed for high wide rear udders or some other type traits, the test will sort out those individuals, as well,” he went on to say to those attending the Wisconsin meeting. “We tested some full siblings, and the genomic test told us that a red heifer had extreme predictions for rear udder height and width. When she calved in for the first time, that held true.”

For those who have worked with and followed the genomics story and the science unfold since 2008, you know the technology is a work in progress. The staff as USDA’s Agricultural Research Service’s Bovine Functional Genomics continues to find new ways to improve the test and its predictive power. The team believes they are getting close to finding genes that control heat stress among some other innovative traits. All this progress does mean one thing predicts Curt Van Tassell, who heads up the genomic project, “Generation intervals will continue to drop, and the time elite cattle stay on the top of lists will drop. We may never see another bull like Oman stay on the top of a bull list for multiple years.”