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Aussie Red dairy cattle genetics gets a boost

AUSSIE Red dairy cattle have been making headway in many herds across the country, with some of the best examples of the breed found in Western Victoria.

With increased numbers of the breed has come the ability to gather more data and build a breed genomic standard.

Australian Red dairy cattle breeders can now use the genomic information from DNA samples of their animals to make herd improvement decisions.

For the first time, DataGene has released Australian Breeding Values (ABVs) that include genomics and are applicable for red breed dairy animals and their crosses.

Aussie Reds, Ayrshires, Illawarras and Dairy Shorthorns have joined Holsteins and Jerseys with genomic ABVs, with enough data collected for scientists to generate genomic breeding values for four key traits.

Red Breed genomic ABVs are available for milk, fat, protein, and cell count. These breeding values will be released three times a year in April, August, and December.

DataGene stakeholder relations specialist, Peter Thurn said farmers could use genomics to help make breeding and culling decisions.

“The addition of genomics to the Red Breed ABVs will give farmers more confidence to be able to identify their better young stock with a greater degree of reliability,” he said.

“Genomics will help with the decisions around heifer retention, sales and whether or not they should be joined to a beef bull. Farmers can start to tailor breeding decisions around the genetic merit of their young stock.”

Peter Thurn

Peter said the introduction of genomic ABVs would also enable artificial breeding centres to purchase red bulls with greater confidence, while these bulls could be used at a younger age on farm with more reassurance about the genetic merit of their progeny.

DataGene has used genomics for the genetic evaluation of Jerseys and Holsteins for the past 10 years.

These breeds have more genomic ABV traits than what’s available for the Red Breed group, because Holsteins and Jerseys have a larger population and more data to draw from.

DataGene will continue to work with Red Breed farmers to collect data to build the reliability and offering of genomic ABVs.

It will also collaborate with other countries and bull companies to bolster Australia’s reference population for red breeds by adding their genotypes.

Australian Reds chairman and Numbaa NSW dairy farmer, Sam Graham said the recent breeding development was a great “starting point” to develop a full genomic reference set for the breed.

“Aussie Red farmers have been collecting tail hair samples for six to seven years, even longer, and continually herd recording, now we are seeing the results and it’s very exciting for the breed."

Sam Graham

“It will motivate people to keep going because we are seeing the results for the hard work.”

Sam said the addition of genomics would also help advance his breed, having seen the impact on genetic gain in Holsteins and Jerseys.

“The other breeds have been able to use genomics to select their best heifers and bulls for use in their herds,” he said.

“Those breeders have been shortening the generation gap, using the latest young genetics, and now, thanks to genomic ABVs, we now have the ability to do that with Australian bulls.”

Although the red dairy breed genomic ABV dataset isn’t complete, Sam said it would weed-out the “stinkers” when it came to bull selection, by making it easier to identify the better sires.

“We will have more confidence using young bulls, knowing that the lower performers aren’t going to be in the mix,” he said.

AUSSIE Red breeder, Paul Cocksedge.

South Gippsland Aussie Red breeder and Nerrena farmer, Paul Cocksedge has already considered breeding his lowest heifers to beef to diversify his income and ensure his replacements are progeny from only elite animals.
“Genomic data means I will be able to make more informed decisions, be able to select better quality bulls and it also means I will be selecting the better-quality heifers,” he said.

“I will be more certain that I’m making the correct decisions.”

For Cohuna, Victoria based Aussie Red breeder, Greg Goulding, the addition of genomic ABVs will improve his herd and help to objectively prove the value of the breed.

“Genomics will definitely give our herd a big boost, we’ll be able to genomically test heifers, off-load that bottom end group and use the top end to breed replacements for quicker genetic gain,” he said.

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