• Breeding the dairy cow of the future: what do we need?

      Berry, Donagh (CSIRO, 2015-06)
      Genetics is responsible for approximately half the observed changes in animal performance in well structured breeding programs. Key characteristics of the dairy cow of the future include (1) production of a large quantity of high-value output (i.e. milk and meat), (2) good reproductive performance, (3) good health status, (4) good longevity, (5) no requirement for a large quantity of feed, yet being able to eat sufficient feed to meet its requirements, (6) easy to manage (i.e. easy calving, docile), (7) good conformation (over and above reflective of health, reproductive performance and longevity), (8) low environmental footprint, and (9) resilience to external perturbations. Pertinent and balanced breeding goals must be developed and implemented to achieve this type of animal; excluding any characteristic from the breeding goal could be detrimental for genetic gain in this characteristic. Attributes currently not explicitly considered in most dairy-cow breeding objectives include product quality, feed intake and efficiency, and environmental footprint; animal health is poorly represented in most breeding objectives. Lessons from the past deterioration in reproductive performance in the global Holstein population remind us of the consequences of ignoring or failing to monitor certain animal characteristics. More importantly, however, current knowledge clearly demonstrates that once unfavourable trends have been identified and the appropriate breeding strategy implemented, the reversal of genetic trends is achievable, even for low-heritability traits such as reproductive performance. Genetic variation exists in all the characteristics described. In the genomics era, the relevance of heritability statistics for most traits is less; the exception is traits not amenable to routine measurement in large populations. Phenotyping strategies (e.g. more detailed phenotypes, larger population) will remain a key component of an animal breeding strategy to achieve the cow of the future as well as providing the necessary tools and information to monitor performance. The inclusion of genomic information in genetic evaluations is, and will continue, to improve the accuracy of genetic evaluations, which, in turn, will augment genetic gain; genomics, however, can also contribute to gains in performance over and above support of increased genetic gain. Nonetheless, the faster genetic gain and thus reduced ability to purge out unfavourable alleles necessitates the appropriate breeding goal and breeding scheme and very close monitoring of performance, in particular for traits not included in the breeding goals. Developments in other disciplines (e.g. reproductive technologies), coupled with commercial struggle for increased market share of the breeding industry, imply a possible change in the landscape of dairy-cow breeding in the future.