Global collaboration vital for future of genetic selection

Published 14 June 17

Developing new genetic and genomic traits for the dairy industry will require worldwide collaboration according to experts from AHDB and SRUC.

AHDB Dairy and SRUC are currently driving forward these efforts through a new initiatives – one of which is the Global Dry Matter Initiative, which is a collaboration of eight different countries worldwide.

Discussion on new ways of working will take place this week at ICAR 2017, a key international conference on livestock recording held in Edinburgh, which will see hundreds of academics and Industry from across the world discussing how the industry can make best use of data, both in terms of livestock management and genetics.

The conference is being jointly hosted by AHDB Dairy and SRUC, due not only to their expertise in animal recording but also because both organisations recognise how important this area is to the future productivity and profitability of the livestock sector.

Speaking ahead of this week’s conference, AHDB Dairy’s Head of Genetics Marco Winters outlined how gathering data for future traits will be far more complex, which will means we must now look beyond our own borders to create a new international approach to breeding.

He says: “We are working in partnership with organisations around the world to develop an entirely new way of working so we can continue to develop new traits, both in the dairy and beef sectors.

“While previously we could use the data farmers gathered themselves, for example through milk recording, we are now looking at traits, such as feed efficiency, which are very costly to measure on an individual farm basis, therefore we need collate data worldwide.”

Professor Mike Coffey, who leads SRUC’s animal breeding and genomics team, agrees that the net now needs to be thrown far wider.

“We cannot do this on our own anymore,” Mike says. “The phenotypes we need in the future will be difficult and costly to produce, which means it is now impractical to rely on purely British data.

“However we are also looking at a new approach within the UK, contracting nucleus farms which will record data on a much more detailed level. That data can then be shared with our international partners, and used to create these new traits.”

The first genomic trait likely to be produced with support from the Global Dry Matter Initiative, and funding from AHDB Dairy, will be on feed efficiency, with results expected within the next twelve months.

Marco explains: “Our initial work on selection was focused on outputs, such as milk yield, before we moved on to look at health, fertility and so on. However outputs are of course driven by inputs, so we now need to look at these to make a real difference on farm.

“Feed efficiency is a key trait of interest as it will help us identify those animals which convert their feed into milk most efficiently and so can produce a robust milk supply on a lower volume of feed, while still remaining healthy and fertile.”

ICAR 2017 runs from Wednesday 14 June to Friday 16 June. More information on the event can be found at