A review of how dairy farmers can use and profit from genomic technologies Academic Article uri icon


  • New genomic technologies can help farmers to (1) achieve higher annual rates of genetic gain through using genomically tested bulls in their herds, (2) select for ‘difficult’ to measure traits, such as feed conversion efficiency, methane emissions and energy balance, (3) select the best heifers to become herd replacements, (4) sell pedigree heifers at a premium, (5) use mating plans to optimise rates of genetic gain while controlling inbreeding, (6) achieve certainty in parentage of individual cows and (7) avoid genetic defects that could arise from mating cows to bulls that are known carriers of genetic diseases that are the result of a single lethal mutation. The first use does not require genotyping females and could approximately double the net income per cow that arises due to genetic improvement, mainly through a reduction in generation interval. On the basis of current rates of genetic gain, the net profit from using genotyped bulls could be worth AU$20/cow per year and is permanent and cumulative. One of the most powerful uses of genomic selection is to select for economically important, yet difficult- or expensive-to-measure traits, such as residual feed intake or energy balance. Provided the accuracy of genomic breeding values is high enough (i.e. correlation between the true and estimated breeding values), these traits lend themselves well to genomic selection. For selecting replacement heifers, if genotyping costs are AU$50/cow, the net profit of genotyping 40 heifers to select the top 20 as replacements (per 100 cows) would be worth approximately AU$41 per cow. However, using parent average estimated breeding-value information is free and can already be used to select replacement heifers. So, genotyping costs would need to be very low to be more profitable than selecting on parent average estimated breeding value. However, extra value from genotyping can also be captured by using other strategies. For example, mating plans that use genomic relationships rather than pedigree relationships to capture inbreeding are superior in terms of reducing progeny inbreeding at a desired level of genetic gain, although pedigree does an adequate job. So, again, the benefits of genotyping are small (<AU$10). Ascertainment of pedigree is an additional use of genotyping and is potentially worth ~AU$30 per cow. Avoidance of genetic diseases and selling of pedigree heifers have a value that should be estimated case-by-case. Because genotyping costs continue to fall, it may become increasingly popular to capture the extra value from genotyping females.

publication date

  • 2012