As printed in the June 2017 Guernsey Breeders’ Journal
By Robin Alden
Since the American Guernsey Association rolled out genomic testing to the public in early 2016, several breeders have taken advantage of the variety of benefits genotyping can offer. A small sample of hair can unveil an invaluable quantity of information. Here are the top seven reasons why Guernsey breeders of all kinds simply can’t go without testing their heifers:
1. Make mating decisions easier. When mating heifers, genomic testing takes the guesswork out of predicting your young stocks’ future traits. We know that parents pass on a random 50% of their traits to their offspring, and that parent averages are far from perfect in predicting those unforeseeable traits such as productive life, daughter pregnancy rate, production and more. “Before genomics, you relied on parent averages for your pedigree information, and how your heifers would perform once they calved in was a guessing game,” says Krista Richardson of Balmoral Farm, Wapakoneta, Ohio. Genotyping sharpens the focus of these traits and gives the breeder a better idea of what traits to improve when making mating decisions. “More accurate information always helps make a better decision,” says Dave Coon of Coon Brothers Farm in Amenia, New York. “Having genomic results from young heifers also helps for the next mating of their dams.”
2. Find your “diamond in the rough.” One of the most exciting aspects of genomic testing your heifers is finding those who far exceed your expectations. Genomics often reveal outstanding heifers and boosts their index, adding them to a “locator list” for potential bull mothers, donor dams and high-selling sale consignments. Check out the April 2017 Top CPI Heifer List at usguernsey.com – of the top 10 heifers, four have been genomic tested. The #1 heifer, Coulee Crest Novak Larissa-ET, is a full 14 points higher than her parent average would have indicated. Four of the Top 10 CPI Cows also have genotyping contributing to their index. Genotyping your heifers young means that the information stored within their DNA has the potential to boost their index for their entire life.
3. Identify the bottom end of the herd. The flip side of finding your outstanding animals is finding those that don’t live up to their pedigree. This also has its merits! Identifying these animals before they reach breeding age means conserving resources that can be redirected to worthier animals. Do you need to reduce your young stock herd? Is your neighbor looking for a family cow? Are you in need of virgin heifers to use as recipients? Genotyping your young stock helps you identify these heifers ahead of time.
4. Compete with other breeds. Have you heard the phrase, “We’re always 10 years behind the Holstein?” Now is the time to bridge that gap. Many other breeds have already thrown their weight behind genotyping with full force. Whether you believe in the reliability of genomic testing or not, in order to keep the Guernsey competitive in today’s rapidly advancing world, we must keep contributing to our pool of knowledge to keep up with the more populous breeds. No, we may never match the sheer numbers of Holstein or Jersey genotypes. However, if the percentage of Guernsey animals that are genotyped exceeds other breeds, we can still make our space within the accelerating world of dairy genomics.
5. Verify parentage and maintain accurate records. If your animal’s parents have also been genomic tested, then genotyping them has the added advantage of verifying their parentage. This is required for all males, as well as embryo donor dams. However, it is also essential for any breeder to have immaculate records of their animal’s pedigrees. A minor error in writing down an incorrect stud code or transposing numbers on a registration application can have several negative impacts – inbreeding can occur, sire proofs are affected and incompatible mating decisions made. Genomic testing is more accurate than any DNA testing before, and can even detect when a maternal grandsire is incorrect. Its ability to immediately offer alternative choices to an incorrect sire makes the testing process move much more quickly. All in all, genomic testing is vital to any breeder wanting to keep accurate records.
6. Increase the value of your Guernseys. The current price to test a heifer or cow for low-density genomics, the A2 gene and BVD is just $65. Compare that to the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more you are adding to your animal’s worth by completing these tests. “The biggest lesson learned has been how quickly generation intervals can be turned over and how valuable the young offspring can be because of that,” said Richardson. A recent example is the second-high seller at the Blue Halter Sale, Sandy Knoll BVGs Last Babe. Last Babe is the #2 heifer on the April 2017 High CPI list, and tested more than 15 points higher than her parent average. Last Babe is also tested A2A2, which has undeniably been adding value to Guernseys going through public auctions as well as private sales for the past several years. Add up the dollars, and genomic testing makes sense!
7. Improve genomic reliability for everyone. Are you concerned that there aren’t enough genotyped Guernseys for genomics to be an accurate estimation of your herd’s traits? Great – we are too! That’s why we need more breeders to test their heifers. With every Guernsey you test, the reliability improves for everyone. If the majority of breeders sit out the early stages and wait for improvement, then the reliability that you’re looking for will never happen. “We feel that we are helping establish and grow the Guernsey genomic database, which should help strengthen the Guernsey breed going forward,” says Sheryl Taylor of Tayl-Wind Farm in Clayville, New York. In addition, genomic reliability already far exceeds that of parent averages – in some cases it may even double it! Genomics are a tool that gives you the most accurate information available, and by contributing to the identified gene pool, that information can be even more reliable.
Now that we’ve convinced you that genomics is an essential tool. Now what?
Genomic testing your cattle is simple. Call (614-339-5390) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) the office to obtain testing materials. Have the registration numbers of your animals and types of tests you want prepared. If you’re still not sure what test to run, we can help you decide! The AGA currently offers two types of sampling: hair and blood. Once you’ve collected the sample, send it straight to the lab and you will receive preliminary results in three to four weeks! Your animal will receive an updated evaluation with the next proof run (April, August or December). As always, if you have any questions about the process, feel free to contact the office and we’ll walk you through it.
Here’s to more information, better decision making and more valuable Guernsey cows!