Animal Health Symposium: CSAS Technology in the Dairy Industry: Old MacDonald or Brave New World?
Dairy cattle breeding programs have been transformed from conventional progeny-testing schemes to genomic selection paired with nucleus herd breeding in the span of one decade. This was spurred by the simultaneous advances in low-cost SNP genotyping, genomic selection methodology and reproductive biotechnologies. The rates of genetic progress have approximately doubled in this time but so have increases in inbreeding levels. This was driven by intense competition between AI studs and farmer adherence to common selection indices which has concentrated selection on very elite segments of juvenile age groups. This has led to speculation on the need for alternative indices and selection for novel traits in order to differentiate breeding programs and customize selection for unique farm conditions. This will be made more possible by the advent of on-farm sensor technology and artificial intelligence algorithms. Large commercial dairies are increasingly experimenting with crossbreeding with varying levels of success and this will require a new approach by breeding programs to focus both on purebred and crossbred performance. In addition, the potential exists for use of gene-editing to further enable value-added traits to be added into breeding programs. In parallel with breeding program advancements, consumer trends are also changing to include more interest in specialty dairy products with implied differences in digestibility, health or environmental impacts. Identifying technologies and traits that will add value either on the farm as well as at the consumer level will be a challenge for today’s breeders and producers. Some new technologies, such as gene editing, can pose consumer acceptance challenges if they are perceived to be used carelessly or for the wrong reasons. Careful choices will need to be made to continue to improve profitability, functionality and health of dairy cattle while also meeting higher consumer standards for animal welfare, health and the environment.