Questionable Dairy Genomics

For this weeks post I have decided to take some bits and pieces of a speech that I have written for class and post it as my blog topic for the week.  Enjoy!

I’m sure that from time to time you have all sat down and pondered about the future of agriculture.  Advancements in technology will be changing the industry of agriculture as we know it.  Recent advancements in the gene sector of the dairy industry has been brought to producers’ attention.  Genomics has personally struck my attention as being the next booming technology in the dairy industry and coming from a dairy farming background it has raised some important questions on my home farm.

For those who don’t know or who are unaware the overall goal of dairy cattle genomics is to select desirable traits between a sire and a dam so that when their offspring is born it will express all of those qualities that were sought after.  Basically what scientists have been able to accomplish is to correctly identify where these key traits lie within the animal’s genome.  Now being able to detect the animals who possess and will pass on those elite genes to their future offspring gives farmers a competitive edge when considering their breeding programs.

I believe that one of the main concerns of incorporating genomics into our dairy herds is the potential risk of depleting future genetic diversity.

So why the concern with genetic diversity then?  The problem arises because of the new genomic technology.  As we learned earlier, you can select elite genes between a male and a female cow to produce an improved offspring.  As a society and in farming as well, we strive for bigger and better all of the time.  The problem arises that with the majority of the industry utilizing this technology the pool of genetic diversity will begin to deplete.  Eventually farmers will be breeding the best of the best to the best of the best and we all know that inbreeding is an enormous hazard to animal health.  We cannot fault our farmers for simply wanting the best, the real question is, are they prepared to sacrifice a flourishing industry to one that may end up much like the inbreed thoroughbred racing industry?  All in all, genomics can be very useful tool, but the right procedures and protocols need to be put into place to maintain the genetic diversity of the dairy industry.

I am personally not opposed to the incorporation of genomic technology on our dairy farms, as it can prove to be quite valuable.  I am trying to make the point that we need to think about the ramifications of this new technology and what it may impact in terms of cattle health by reducing our genetic pool.  With more and more cows being genomicly assessed every day, it is clear that genomic technology is a tool that many dairy farmers will begin to integrate into their breeding programs.  All in all genomics is at the center of dairy cattle genetics today, never before have farmers been able to attain such valuable information about how to enhance and improve their herds all over the world.

Genomics in dairy cattle is becoming a heated issue

Genomics in dairy cattle is becoming a heated issue

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3 thoughts on “Questionable Dairy Genomics

  1. Owen says:

    Kristen, perhaps you could further elaborate on why geonomic-based breeding is so much more fearsome than any of the other breeding technologies that likewise chose the best of the best. I understand the concern about inbreeding, but given the number of offspring that can be developed from a good bull’s AI offerings, for example, isn’t the sector already moving in that direction?

  2. I look at genomics as a step in the right direction, but we must be extremely careful in what ways we implement this technology. With traditional breeding methods, we are moving in a similar direction as genomic breeding BUT at a much slower rate. There is also a much larger variation of offspring that are produced with traditional methods. I feel that we will begin to see a higher rate of inbreeding and eventually a toilet bowl effect of gene depletion. Really when a farmer has all of the right technology to produce that perfect looking and long lasting cow, what is stopping him? For this reason I believe that there need to be regulations on breeding cows so that we can ensure that there will be potential for genetic diversity in the holstein dairy industry. We may be faced with some unfavorable repercussions if we put all of our eggs in one basket!

  3. Owen says:

    Thanks for this well-reasoned response, Kristen. I think it will be challenging to introduce regulations telling producers what animals they can use for their breeding program. Maybe guidelines would be the way to start, rather than regulations, although I’m sure the industry doesn’t want to see any problems whatsoever get started because they could quickly escalate.

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