Genomic Selection as a Risk Management Tool for U.S. Dairies

Project Overview

SW21-925
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $349,876.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Host Institution Award ID: G369-21-W8612
Grant Recipients: Washington State University; University of Idaho
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Holly Neibergs
Washington State University
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Amber Adams-Progar
Washington State University
Dr. Joseph Dalton
University of Idaho
J. Shannon Neibergs
Washington State University

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: genetics
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Farm Business Management: risk management

    Proposal abstract:

    Washington and Idaho dairies, a leading commodity in the West, are experiencing difficult financial times, and need tools that can improve sustainability and profitability through enhanced production efficiency. After feed, the cost of raising replacement heifers (young female cattle to replace aging cows) is a dairy farm’s greatest expense.  Genomic selection, the use of DNA technologies to make accurate predictions of the performance of crops, fruit and livestock, offers permanent improvement of agricultural yields. The improvement of yields with the same or even lower inputs improves environmental sustainability and results in higher profitability. Our proposal’s significance is that by undergoing the transformative change of using genomic selection to choose the “right” heifers, dairy farms will be more sustainable and profitable. Although this demonstration will be done in dairies, the benefits of genomic selection are also applicable to other agricultural enterprises.

    Genomic selection is used predominantly in animals with high individual values, such as cattle, to offset the cost of DNA technology. This proposal uses demonstration dairies in Washington and Idaho to educate producers, veterinarians, allied health individuals, agricultural  students and Extension agents about genomic selection and how it benefits dairies by: 1) reducing financial risk by predicting  genetically superior females, thereby  improving  milk production while maintaining or reducing herd inventory; 2) resulting in a positive return on investment and increased profitability and; 3) reducing the dairy’s environmental impact through reduced manure production by improving herd efficiency. Traditional and genomic approaches will predict performance to rank and select heifers. Predicted and actual milk, reproductive, and health performance for the demonstration herds will be compared and serve as the basis for the analyses of profitability, financial risk, and return on investment for the six demonstration dairies.

    The implementation of genomic selection has lagged on dairy farms due to a lack of education. This proposal focuses on educating producers, veterinarians and others about the financial benefits of genomic selection compared to traditional selection to overcome this hurdle. Producer and veterinarian Genomic Selection Workshops and university students will “select” replacement heifers using actual data from the demonstration farms based on genomic and traditional selection information. Educational outcomes will be measured for Workshops using pre- and post- workshop assessments to determine, if attendees have: 1) improved their knowledge of genomic selection and financial risk management; 2) plan to implement genomic selection to improve their (or their client’s) herd and their dairy's profitability; and 3) plan to share their knowledge with others. Outcomes for university classes will be if they have increased their knowledge of genomic selection as measured by class testing. Profitability and production outcomes of the dairies will be measured through comparing cattle selected by genomic and traditional selection approaches. Environmental and sustainability outcomes will be measured by the reduction of cattle needed and the reduction in nutrients to meet the same level of production using genomic selection compared to traditional selection. Project information will be disseminated to agricultural stakeholders at state and national meetings, through Extension newsletters, and Extension and professional journal publications.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The research objectives are to:

    Objective 1: Identify the profitability difference between replacement heifers chosen with genomic selection compared to those chosen with traditional selection on a per animal basis.

    Objective 2: Identify return on investment for the cost of genomic selection on a per heifer, per dairy and across dairies basis.

    Objective 3: Determine the reduction in financial risk (variability in profits) that results from an increased accuracy of prediction of replacement heifer performance through genomic selection on a per dairy and across all dairies basis.

    Objective 4: Develop a model to project the one and ten-year difference in dairy farm profitability and nutrient (manure) load contributed to the environment between traditional versus genomic selection to determine the added sustainability of using genomic selection.

    The educational objective is to:

    Objective 1: Educate dairy producers, veterinarians, extension agents and undergraduate university students on the use of genomic selection to mitigate financial risk and enhance profitability while improving the genetics of the milking herd. This will be accomplished through:

      1. Producer Workshops and Veterinarian Workshops in central and northwestern Washington and southern Idaho. Pre- and post-Workshop assessments will determine the value of the educational sessions to the attendees. Online workshops will be held if in-person workshops aren’t possible.
      2. Undergraduate courses in Animal and Veterinary Science at Washington State University. Students will be tested on the information provided in class to assess their understanding of genomic selection uses.
      3. Online course that provides information and demonstrations on genomic selection and a self-test for participants to gauge their understanding of genomic selection.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.