Designing dairy cattle breeding schemes under genomic selection: a review of international research Academic Article uri icon


  • High rates of genetic gain can be achieved through (1) accurate predictions of breeding values (2) high intensities of selection and (3) shorter generation intervals. Reliabilities of ~60% are currently achievable using genomic selection in dairy cattle. This breakthrough means that selection of animals can happen at a very early age (i.e. as soon as a DNA sample is available) and has opened opportunities to radically redesign breeding schemes. Most research over the past decade has focussed on the feasibility of genomic selection, especially how to increase the accuracy of genomic breeding values. More recently, how to apply genomic technology to breeding schemes has generated a lot of interest. Some of this research remains the intellectual property of breeding companies, but there are examples in the public domain. Here we review published research into breeding scheme design using genomic selection and evaluate which designs appear to be promising (in terms of rates of genetic gain) and those that may have unfavourable side-effects (i.e. increasing the rate of inbreeding). The schemes range from fairly conservative designs where bulls are screened genomically to reduce numbers entering progeny testing, to schemes where very large numbers of bull calves are screened and used as sires as soon as they reach sexual maturity. More radical schemes that incorporate the use of reproductive technologies (in juveniles) and genomic selection in nucleus herds are also described. The models used are either deterministic and more recently tend to be stochastic, simulating populations of cattle. A key driver of the rate of genetic gain is the generation interval, which could range from being similar to that in conventional testing (~5 years), down to as little as 1.5 years. Generally, the rate of genetic gain is between 12% and 100% more than in conventional progeny testing, while the rate of inbreeding tends to be lower per generation than in progeny testing because Mendelian sampling terms can be estimated more accurately. However, short generation intervals can lead to higher rates of inbreeding per year in genomic breeding programs.

publication date

  • 2012