European producers are now increasingly using genomics to grow superior and highly efficient cattle herds, and get premium prices for both milk and beef. 

Genomics technology began in 2009, and involves carrying out tests on elite animals to determine those with desirable, su – perior genes/traits that are likely to translate into superior breeds. 

An expensive procedure then, it is more affordable today, at an average cost of between $20 and $50 in European countries. Usually, blood and hair follicle samples are taken from a calf’s ear or tail shortly after birth and analysed in the lab. The farmer receives the results in a few days, and is able to predict the genetic potential of the animal across several criteria. 

These tests, which can be benchmarked on different merits such as cheese, fluid or grazing, are helping farmers make crucial decisions on their farms, that are increasing their profitability, and saving them thousands of dollars too. Numerous advantages are emerging for farmers that have embraced the technology. They are now reaping the benefits of having nicely calculated, and highly efficient herds. These ben – efits of customising herd genetics are reaching far beyond the farm, and increasingly showing signs of positively influencing processors and consumer demand.

“Producers, in cooperation with proces – sors of consumer products, could work to breed-specific genetics into their herds,” says Mr Ben Laine, a dairy analyst at Rabobank.

 “This will produce milk that matches the profile of the products being produced, resulting in increased efficiency, and a higher yield at a lower finished cost, with a milk price premium to the producer.”

 Using genomic testing to develop herds with greater feed efficiency, also has implications for both farm sustainability and profitability. Feeds are a major expense on dairy farms, and growing feed also has environmental implications. 

Improving genetics towards greater feed con – version will drive up more milk production from fewer cows, using less land and feed resources. 

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According to a report by Rabobank, drawing upon cutting-edge technologies such as the use of genomics and sexed semen amongst others, is giving handsome short term returns to European farmers. The technology is likely to turn out to be critical to both dairy and beef farmers as a long-term strategy too. 

Farmers who do not embrace the technology may find themselves struggling to keep up with those that do. 

Why genomics may be that ace up your sleeve 

Reduced replacement costs of heifers (Raising or buying them)

 This is the third-highest cost behind feeds and labour. 

Understanding the genetic potential of calves, will help farmers to move away from the common notion that they should keep all the heifers born.

 A farmer will use such data to better focus on maintaining the optimal size of the herds and keep only the best animals. 

If the result of a genomic test suggests that the performance of the cow in the milking herd is enough to offset raising it, then he will keep it. If it suggests otherwise, then it should be sold immediately to minimise loss prior to raising it into a heifer 

Genomic testing is paired with the use of sexed semen, which continues to gain popularity amongst dairy farmers across the world. Sexed semen increases the likelihood of your offspring being a female by over 90 per cent. By drawing upon such technologies, dairy farmers can maintain only the most favourable animals within their milking herds. 

Embryo transfers are another technology that can help farmers raise the standards of their milking herds. 

A heifer produces about 150,000 ova. Naturally, such a cow would only give you two to four calves in its lifetime. 

However, using embryo transfer technology numerous, offspring can be produced from a heifer that has good genetic traits. 

Farmers can now ensure that their herds are suited to the ecological climate of where their farm is located. This is in addition to the fact that animals with genetic diseases and disorders should not be allowed to reproduce and should be culled immediately. 

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For beef breeders, genomics can easily tell you the feed conversion rate of your animals as soon as they are born. 

This will allow you to invest only in the an – imals that will grow and add weight quickly. Genomics can tell you with certainty the quality of meat your cow will eventually produce amongst other important traits.

Benefits to the beef supply industry Dairy farms can provide a year-round supply of beef due to their year-round calving, which will improve consistency. There is a need to remove the inconsistencies inherent in the beef production industry. 

Also, cows that have been genomically tested are more easily age and source verified, enabling greater export opportunities. 

Benefits to consumers 

Today, customers want to know exactly what they are buying, some up to the genetics. 

Technologies like these, can get them what they want. Imagine the marketing advantage that farmers would enjoy if, for example, they could tailor their herds to produce only milk with the highest levels of kappa-casein a protein in milk that results in higher cheese yields. Such milk can be sold at a premium, and production can be guaranteed by ensuring that your herd consists of animals that produce large quantities of the kind of milk that you require, because, they are genetically wired to do just that. 

Manufacturer’s benefit 

Companies, too, can offer more value to their customers if they do genomics testing and other complementing technologies. One company, A2 milk in the Netherlands, provides its consumers with a value proposition that its milk is collected from cows that only produce A2 beta-casein protein rather than both A1 and A2 proteins.

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