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Progressive Events: CDCB discusses the genetics of dairy feed efficiency

Progressive Dairy Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 31 December 2019
Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding

CDCB hosted its fifth annual industry meeting at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, on Oct. 1, drawing dairy producers and representatives from artificial insemination (A.I.), genomic nominators, breed associations, dairy herd information (DHI) and dairy records processing centers (DRPCs).

Presentations and conversation centered on the intersection of feed intake, feed efficiency and social responsibility. Detail was shared on U.S. genetic evaluations for feed efficiency and possibly through expanded data collection and research funded by CDCB and Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). CDCB and FFAR have each committed to invest $1 million to fund research and measurement of feed intake and sensor data at four universities and USDA-AGIL. CDCB expects to launch genomic evaluations for feed efficiency in Holsteins in 2020.

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In reviewing the CDCB annual report, João Dürr, CEO of CDCB, noted significant enhancements made to the evaluation system. These included: increase in number of markers in genomic predictions, from 60K to 80K SNP set, simultaneously adopting the new bovine reference genome assembly; inclusion of crossbred animals in dairy genomic evaluations; early first calving (EFC) as a new trait; inclusion of global data on the clinical mastitis resistance genomic evaluations through participation in Interbull evaluations; and thorough review of fertility evaluations to address seasonal variation of PTAs.

Other relevant initiatives of the last 12 months included adoption of a simplified fee structure that assigns credits to those providing data to the national cooperator database; creation of the Producers Advisory Committee to counsel the CDCB board on strategy, policy and activity; adoption of a test run process for important changes in genetic evaluation methods and procedures before implementation; and approval of a policy for the use of national cooperator database for SNP array validation and SNP information disclosure.

Keynote presentations were delivered by principal researchers at the five institutions participating in the FFAR-CDCB supported research.

  • U.S. efforts to create a feed efficiency database, Mike Vandehaar, Michigan State: Vandehaar discussed collaborate work being done across academia and industry to develop a database of 8,000 genomically tested Holsteins, from which they will explore genomic selection for residual feed intake (RFI).

  • How do we measure feed efficiency? Heather White, University of Wisconsin – Madison: White talked about the importance of precision at the individual cow level in determining phenotypic RFI. From one animal to the next, factors such as diet digestibility, rumen fermentation, post-absorptive nutrient utilization and feed behavior impact RFI differently.

  • Precision dairy is here to stay, James Koltes, Iowa State: In an overview of precision technology used on farms and in the dairy research field, Koltes noted the potential for such sensor measurements, combined with milk spectral data, to be used to develop feed intake prediction tools.

  • Genetic dissection of dairy cow feed efficiency, Francisco Peñagaricano, University of Florida: Peñagaricano explained the heritability of RFI, noting that it is controlled by many genes, each producing small effects. Currently, genomic predictive correlations are around 20%. More feed intake records and more reliable genomic predictions will be important tools for further discovery.

  • Preview of feed efficiency genetic evaluations, Paul VanRaden, USDA Animal Genomics and Improvement Laboratory: In reference to Net Merit (NM$) calculations, VanRaden said RFI could receive around 16% of relative emphasis in net merit; however, low reliability of roughly 12% for young animals will limit progress. Reliability of NM$ is lower when feed intake or other traits with low REL (such as fertility) are included in the selection goals, but progress is faster.

In opening remarks, CDCB Chair Neal Smith called for stronger collaboration and focus on producers. “Our focus moving forward – in addition to providing the best genetic evaluations possible – is stronger collaboration and communication with stakeholders. Dairy producers are at the top of that list.”

Dürr challenged the audience: “What is the next disruptive technology that will change our industry in the way that genomics has? I believe that is big data. It’s already here. How do we leverage it to improve our systems and dairy management?” Dürr detailed learnings from CDCB’s February 2019 input session in Reno, Nevada, outlined 2019 highlights and previewed 2020 priorities.

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Looking ahead, Dürr closed the meeting on this thought: “If reality presents itself as a constant change, it’s most important to stay focused on the ultimate purpose of CDCB and genetic improvement – empowering dairy producers to deliver the greatest source of nutrients available: milk.  end mark

Peggy Coffeen, editor of Progressive Dairy, emceed the event. CDCB thanks all presenters and attendees and welcomes feedback about this meeting and future topics.

Peggy Coffeen
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