SECURING THE FUTURE
There will probably not be too many British Friesian enthusiasts who read the Holstein International journal. However some of us have read the recent article on in-breeding, and this should be compulsory reading for cow keepers of all breeds.
From the moment that index-breeding, and more explicitly PIN in the UK, became the tool for the so-called enlightened breeder, we had forecast a disaster waiting to happen. Not only was PIN heavily weighted in favour of yield, but also angularity. True to prediction, yields increased, cows got thinner, fertility got worse, herd life shortened and male calves became an embarrassment. Obsolescence was built in, in that it encouraged the breeding from the younger animals, as yet unproven in the herd. Adjustments needed to be made and PLI promised to do better!
However across the water, the need to keep in pole position had seen the boundaries of sheer common sense repeatedly disregarded, with close matings of high indexing animals leading to a concentration of the gene pool and an ever increasing danger of recessives. This is well demonstrated by the discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, of a gene affecting fertility, and also linked to yield. Fertility has collapsed in the USA by 20% in the last 20 years.
In-breeding levels of the American and Canadian Holsteins have increased to over 5%. (Jerseys to over 7%) and there are no new genes to draw on. The problem has also been exported around the world, so they cannot source fresh bloodlines from afar. The answer would be a dramatic change to the way the genetic improvement programmes work, but this is thought to be unacceptable. Some pin their hopes on the new science of genomics, but is further selection or elimination of traits, not also a further reduction of the gene pool ? So, what is to be done?
No prizes for guessing! We in the UK do have access to other black and white genetics. They are called British Friesian, providing an immediate outcross, and with all their known benefits of good fertility, longevity and body condition. We urge the inclusion of in-breeding % on registration certificates (as proposed at the delegates meeting by the British Friesian Breeders Club, some two years ago). Changes to classification can also be made, but it will inevitably take a long time to bring about a really significant change, and does not on its own, address the problems of a smaller and smaller gene pool.
Fashions come and go, but it is the needs of the UK dairy farmer, operating in his home market, that should be addressed by pedigree breeders. We are a nation of animal lovers, and the consumer is king. Supermarkets will place themselves above criticism wherever they can and use their buying power to ensure that their suppliers comply. The black and white male calf remains a challenge, as does the high grain price and therefore intensive systems. We should respond to these challenging times and not continue to try to fit square pegs into round holes!
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