Extending genomic testing to the female line

Treenie Bowser, right, one of the vets offering the Clarifide program for genomic testing of females in the herd, discusses the detail with Aurelie Moralis, Zoetis. Picture Columba O'Hare
Treenie Bowser, right, one of the vets offering the Clarifide program for genomic testing of females in the herd, discusses the detail with Aurelie Moralis, Zoetis. Picture Columba O'Hare

Farmers are familiar with the success of genomic testing for early identification of high quality young sires, compared to the time consuming system of progeny testing which was used years ago.

The good news is that genomic testing is now available for the females in the herd enabling farmers not only to effect genetic improvement quickly but also more accurately.

A number of vets in Northern Ireland are now offering a genomic testing service for dairy farmers, providing them with information on heifer genetics that is 50-70% reliable compared to a reliability of 15-30% when using information based on parent average alone.

Aurelie Moralis, Veterinary Consultant with Zoetis explains: “The genetic make-up of a heifer is inherited from both parents and while farmers have achieved a lot of improvement in various aspects by recording the physical attributes of the parents in order to make mating decisions, they cannot account for what genetic material was actually inherited.”

Aurelie went on to say that a genomics package called CLARIFIDE® is now being offered to dairy farmers by their veterinary surgeon. Initially the CLARIFIDE trained vet will hold a consultation with the farmer to review performance and support the farmer to set breeding objectives for the herd. The breeding objectives determine which traits a farmer wishes to improve in the herd through breeding.

She continued: “From this consultation a breeding strategy will be outlined which is bespoke to the individual farm. When genomic testing is implemented, through hair or tissue sampling, the results will be reviewed against the breeding objectives and farm system. The CLARIFIDE trained vet can then support the farmer to make strategic breeding decisions in conjunction with the breeding advisor using genomic data to identify bulls that complement existing strengths and address apparent weaknesses.”

Treenie Bowser from Parklands Veterinary Group is one of the vets offering this service. She explained: “The veterinary surgeon is very familiar with the farm and is aware of the health history, fertility and day-to-day management etc. so is in an ideal position to help the farmer choose the genetics that will suit each individual animal. CLARIFIDE can also assist in executing the management system on the farm. For example a farmer may wish to mate some lower ranked heifers to beef sires or may want to make decisions very early in a heifer’s life about which ones to sell as accommodation for young stock is limited. The ability to accurately assess the genetic make-up of the heifer very early in life enables the farmer to confidently make a lot of breeding and management decisions.”

Aurelie Moralis emphasised: “The parent average of a heifer is the average of the parents estimated genetic make-up and is therefore only a prediction of what the animal could inherit. The figures cannot account for what genetic material was actually inherited. Genomic testing can supply this information and enable the farmer to effect breeding and management improvements more quickly and more accurately.

“Genetics are a long term cost-effective investment – any genetic improvement is permanent and cumulative. The combination of the correct genetics and excellent management can yield outstanding results.”