Genomic model next for ICBF

With this kind of ambition, and ICBF‘s positive results so far, Ireland could yet catch up with the Israelis

Working together has turned the corner in Irish cattle breeding.

The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation's (ICBF ) announcement that dairy herd fertility is approaching levels last seen in the late 1970s, after declining from 1980 to 2000, is welcome, as the milk industry gears up for a new era of global competition.

Almost all genetic traits favourable for milk production are improving — including milk yield, ease of calving, and health — which means more money in dairy farmers' pockets, and more competitive production for the export market.

These trends are a result of ICBF pulling together many disparate parts of the livestock industry over the last 14 years, so that genetic data could be gathered from all possible sources and used efficiently, through the best available computing and genetic technologies.

The tragedy is that government and the dairy and beef industry took so long to adopt this obvious route to genetic progress. Our dairy industry is light years behind Israel, for example, where genetic improvement has added about 1,000kg of milk yield every 10 years to the average dairy cow.

It’s much easier for them, with only 115,000 cows (averaging about 2,600 gallons).

It was achieved by managing the country’s entire dairy herd almost as a unit, with the savings and other possibilities that can bring.

A 90% rate of milk recording gives Israel a bank of high quality genetic data unmatched anywhere, which has been utilised well.

In the 1920s, their first dairy farmers started recording yield, fat and protein figures. Eighty years of this professional approach have led to success. With artificial insemination building up to more than 95% of matings, the genetic improvement programme went from strength to strength.

In 14 years, geneticists, farmers and advisors have helped to raise average milk fat content 0.5% and protein 0.2%.

So Ireland is well behind. Nevertheless ICBF has acheived progress which eluded us for so many decades. And the Federation’s achievements in genomics show that it is a world class operator.

Ireland has been a rapid adopter of genomics technology in its dairy breeding programme.

Genomics is a technology for increasing the accuracy of determining the genetic merit of young potential breeding animals. It enables much cheaper breeding programmes, which promise to allow even greater exploitation of the accelerating rate of genetic progress in Ireland, where elite young dairy bulls are now considerably superior to their predecessors.

Genomics is also substantially reducing costs in the artificial insemination industry. ICBF’s model for “genomic” dairy breeding envisages a small number of next generation research herds, 1,000 bull breeder herds, and the bulk of annual cow replacements coming from 30 new genomically selected AI bulls per year.

With this kind of ambition, and ICBF’s positive results so far, Ireland could yet catch up with the Israelis


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