WE MOVE FAST, BUT ARE WE MOVING TOO FAST?

By Claus Langdahl, VikingHolstein Breeding Manager

When genomic selection was first being introduced, whether this would result in more or less inbreeding for the animals was a topic of debate. As we can now scientifically demonstrate, it has not resulted in more inbreeding for VikingHolstein. So, the answer to the headline is “NO”.  
Genetic progress is now at 4.3 NTM units per year – the aim is 4.0 NTM units per year. There is no doubt that the VikingGenetics breeding programme is very efficient, but how is inbreeding doing? 

From basic breeding theory, we know that a very one-sided use of the best bulls and cows leads to high genetic progress, but also much inbreeding. Genetic variation will be reduced and with this, the chance of maintaining genetic progress in the long run. Plus, we can face an increased risk of genetic defects. Finding the right balance between these two parameters – genetic progress and inbreeding – is essential.

Generation interval

The main factor for high genetic progress is the generation interval. In Figure 1 we can see the development between 2009 that was before genomic selection and today. It is measured on all purchased VikingHolstein bulls during this period. The figures show in particular bulls and not females in 2009 that bulls were 2,500 days old when they had sons born and now they are almost 800 days old.
The parental average falls from 1,910 days to 819 days – less than half. This means that the parents were 18 months old at time of insemination. For bulls in particular, we can shorten the interval even further, today it is primarily foreign sires of sons that are a bit older when the semen is available.
 

Figure 1. Change in age of parents measured in days from 2009 to 2017 for VikingHolstein bulls

Pedigree variation

We purchase and start semen production of approx. 90 VikingHolstein bulls a year. Almost all of these bulls will be used for high index females and thus have a chance to become the sires of the next generation. We also use some foreign bulls selected on the same NTM criteria as our own bulls. Genomic testing of all animals in a herd is done on many herds today, which certainly contributes to VikingGenetics finding good bulls in many of these herds. This high degree of variation in the bulls’ pedigree is the first indicator that we have inbreeding under control.

Inbreeding control

To control the balance between genetic progress and inbreeding, VikingGenetics uses an optimisation programme called EVA (EVolutionary Algorithm). The results from the programme are included in the total evaluation both when it comes to selecting females for the embryo transfer programme and when purchasing the next generation of bulls. It is a very useful programme that is also used in the breeding programmes for pigs, elks and fish. One of the results from the EVA programme shows inbreeding in the population.

Figure 2 shows the degree of inbreeding measured in a dataset consisting of high index animals in the VikingGenetics area. According to the Food & Agricultural 

Organisation (FAO), a population is sustainable if inbreeding increases by less than 1% unit per generation. In practice, this means approx. 0.4 percentage point based on the 819-day generation interval shown above.

In VikingHolstein, we have the luxury of being able to use the local female population actively to create long term genetic variation along with optimal genetic progress. This is due to both a very strong market share and the fact that VikingGenetics is the only company selecting for NTM. At the same time, this is also a great responsibility that we take seriously as the numbers also show.

Figure 2. The annual degree of inbreeding for VikingHolstein measured on high index females in the VikingGenetics region.
With VikingHolstein you can enhance the efficiency of your herd and boost your profitability. By choosing VikingHolstein you get fast genetic progress and at the same time you ensure the low inbreeding level. VikingHolstein sires will help you drive genetic progress for all the traits that are important for the profitability of your dairy business. 

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