Big data drives dairy genetics

This week’s release of Australian Breeding Values (ABVs) and the upcoming joining season will have dairy farmers around the country thinking about the next best sires to use over their herds.

AI Leppin
This week’s release of Australian Breeding
Values (ABVs) and the upcoming joining
season will have dairy farmers around the
country thinking about the next best sires
to use over their herds.

While breeding enthusiasts will delve into great detail and enjoy lengthy discussions with others, many dairy farmers want a simple process to make good breeding decisions.

DataGene caters to all ranges in the spectrum, publishing ABVs for 40 traits including production, type, health as well as the Balanced Performance Index (BPI) which combines in a single figure the key traits that influence a cow’s contribution to the dairy business. The simplest way to choose bulls is to look for the Good Bulls icon; these bulls meet DataGene’s minimum criteria for BPI and reliability and are available for purchase.

Both the breeding enthusiast and the pragmatic decision maker can have confidence that Australia’s genetic evaluation system delivers the best prediction of an animal’s performance under local dairying conditions.

Dr Matt Shaffer, DataGene CEO, said the Australian system was one of the best in the world because it is independent, underpinned by science and backed by big data.

“ABVs are based on Australian data to give the best possible prediction of an animal’s performance under Australian conditions. Other breeding values are designed to give the best predictions for performance under their local conditions,” he said.

Each ABV run involves evaluating more than 66 million animal/trait combinations and 250 million observations in the Australian database.

“Overseas data enhances the Australian system however it is adjusted to allow for environment and management differences between countries.”

The Australian dairy industry has given the responsibility of genetic evaluation to DataGene, an independent, industry-owned organisation that has no commercial interests in selling semen or cattle.

Australia’s genetic evaluation system is underpinned by world class science through the DairyBio collaboration. DairyBio is a joint initiative between Agriculture Victoria, Dairy Australia and the Gardiner Dairy Foundation. The team works in purpose-built facilities at the AgriBio Centre for AgriBioscience at LaTrobe University, Melbourne. With industry organisations like DataGene, Holstein Australia, Jersey Australia and NHIA also onsite, it is one of the few integrated genetic facilities in the world, bringing together researchers and industry to create practical tools for dairy farmers.

Multiple Australian studies have determined that higher genetic merit cows (based on BPI) produce more milk solids than their herdmates with lower genetic merit. They also last just as long, if not longer in the herd, debunking the theory that higher genetic merit cows are less fertile and less likely to last. These findings hold across different breeds, dairy regions and feeding systems.

“Dairy Australia invests heavily in genetics and these studies confirm the investment pays dividends for farmers. Genetic gain is permanent and compounds year on year, contributing to 30% of productivity gains on Australian dairy farms. It’s definitely worth making every breeding decision count,” Dr Shaffer said. 

The August ABV release Good Bulls Guide are available from www.datagene.com.au

DataGene is an initiative of Dairy Australia and the herd improvement industry.