DNA Proven genetics

July 2008
It has been said that DNA Proven genetics is the most significant development in farm productivity improvement since artificial breeding (AB) began in New Zealand more than 50 years ago.

It enables farmers to select bulls for widespread use based on their DNA profile rather than waiting for information on the performance of their daughters. This process, generally known as genomic selection, results in a generation interval thats shorter by about three years.

Under the conventional Sire Proving Scheme it takes seven years to breed a bull and prove it for widespread use as five-year-olds. DNA Proven semen will be available for limited use when bulls are yearlings, and for widespread use as two-year-olds.

DNA Proven semen is the ability to identify elite artificial breeding sires from their DNA, years before conventional daughter proving and LIC claims it will change dairying forever.

Farmer cooperative, Livestock Improvement (LIC), is the countrys largest genetics company, its elite sires siring 4 out of 5 dairy cows in New Zealand.

This advance marks a giant step forwards, according to CEO, Mark Dewdney.

The ability to identify elite artificial breeding sires from their DNA puts money in farmers pockets, and accelerates the rate of genetic gain enjoyed by the NZ dairy industry. The cumulative, permanent effect of genetic gain means, for the average 450 cow farm, additional profit of $500,000 of todays dollars over 24 years. And for the industry, this translates to between $1.9 and $3.9 billion of todays dollars in additional profit over the next 20 years. The faster genetic gain means more productive, fertile dairy cows, more on-farm profit all without farmers having to do anything different.

DNA Proven technology reduces the time taken to breed a bull and DNA prove it for wide-spread use to just four years.

The increase in the rate of genetic gain comes about mainly because of the much shorter generation interval, but also because DNA can be used to select bulls from a much wider genetic pool. Under the traditional system, hundreds of bulls were considered for possible selection by daughter proving, whereas DNA screening enables LIC to consider thousands of young bulls.

More profitable

The potential for genomic selection (DNA Proven technology) to increase the rate of genetic gain in the dairy industry is huge. Its expected to be worth between $1.9 and $3.9 billion in extra profit to the dairy farmers of New Zealand over the next 20 years. To put that figure into perspective, most farm productivity improvements are measured as worth millions of dollars to the industry never billions! No wonder it is being heralded as the biggest advance in genetics since artificial breeding was developed more than 50 years ago.

How it works

Using DNA Proven bulls will not mean farmers have to make major changes to their farming practices. It will be business as usual, except for increased profitability further down the track.

Farmers can choose whether or not to use DNA Proven bulls. Daughter Proven bulls will always be available, now and in the future.

There will be two Premier Sires teams, a DNA Proven team, and a Daughter Proven team and Alpha will be offering DNA Proven from 2009 onwards as well as Daughter Proven individual bulls and Paks.

DNA Proven bulls will, in general, cost more than Daughter Proven bulls but farmers will be getting so much more. Instead of a genetic gain of 10 BW units a year, gains of 17 BW units per year can be expected. Thats a 70% increase. This gain is permanent and cumulative.

The indexes of individual DNA Proven bulls have lower reliabilities than the indexes of Daughter Proven bulls, but LIC will adjust the size of Premier Sires Teams to keep the average team reliability about the same as its always been. Lower individual reliabilities are overcome by using a team of bulls. In particular, the Premier Sires DNA Proven bull team will be larger than the traditional Daughter Proven team. 2008 and 2009 will be transitional years. In those two years farmers will be able to buy bulls proven by their DNA, but not selected for their DNA. DNA Proven bulls will be sourced at first from the bulls-in-waiting ie. bulls that were originally selected using the traditional criteria and systems of ancestry, dam inspections, contract mating, etc. for the 2006 and 2007 Sire Proving Schemes.

From 2010 onwards, the DNA Proven bulls on offer will have come from a much wider pool of animals and selected using their DNA. Also, because BW will not be available from New Zealand Animal Evaluation Ltd for DNA Proven bulls until 2009 at the earliest, LIC will be using a temporary term, GW to use as a guide until then. This index will be calculated using the same traits, with the same weightings and the same economic values, as the BW.