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Promoting healthier genetic traits when breeding livestock

25 September, 2019
Selective breeding for yield has shot up in recent decades in order to meet demand. Total milk production has increased by 14% in the last ten years, and individual cow productivity has increased by 21% since 20011. While beneficial in the short-term, an under-acknowledged effect has been the accidental increase in negative phenotypic traits. Studies have shown that negative traits that have increased due to selective breeding include reduced fertility, increased incidence of mastitis, and an increased prevalence of lameness.2
What can be done to combat this? The best option is to implement a preventative breeding plan, one that improves the occurrence of positive traits and minimises the negatives.
It’s possible to focus on breeding for easier calving, reducing lameness, and greater productivity, while avoiding an increase in negative traits. Although not currently a priority in the UK, other countries are even taking steps to breed for greater disease resistance, with one genetic researcher producing results of four to six times as many natural antibodies on average in the resulting livestock.3
Genetics is a long-term adjustment for greater risk management rather than a quick change but has great potential for ensuring a steady and sustainable line of production that grows more resilient over time. Work with a reliable industry partner to set out a preventative breeding programme that emphasises increasing productivity, without compromising long-term sustainability. To do otherwise is a large risk, one that could ultimately see financial losses and worsening animal health over a longer time-frame.

How can you implement a breeding programme that minimises risk and fosters positive livestock traits?

Download AF’s full free report here to learn more.
1DEFRA, source: https://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/market-information/farming-data/milk-yield/average-milk-yield/
2Pryce, J. E., Esslemont, R. J., Thompson, R., Veerkamp, R. F., Kossaibati, M. A. and Simm, G. (1998) Estimation of genetic parameters using health, fertility and production data from a management recording system for dairy cattle. Animal Science, 66: 577-584.
3https://www.wur.nl/en/article/Breeding-animals-for-general-disease-resistance-Yes-we-can-1.htm
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