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Breeding for adaption – the best way to future-proof dairy

Gene editing and genomics are breeding tools that will help the dairy industry adapt and thrive.

That’s according to World Wide Sires and Select Sires director of global training Joel Mergler.

Mr Mergler challenged dairy farmers and the wider industry to stay relevant, even shedding old ideas and practices, to ensure dairy farming can adjust to future challenges.

“Genomics is the biggest change that can keep our industry relevant,” he said. “It opened the book for us to be able to see inside (an) animal and change that population in a very short time.”

Using polled genetics as an example, he said if the dairy industry were no longer permitted to remove horns from animals, the technology of DNA testing – genomics – could introduce polled genes fast.

Speaking from the United States of America as part of the 2020 Genetics Australia online conference, Mr Mergler said dairy faced challenges such as climate change, larger farms, increased efficiency and animal activist threats.

Maintaining “relevance” as an industry could mean breeding animals which neutralize some of these potential concerns.

He told the conference, breeding selection for feed efficiency, longevity, and environmental issues such as nitrate, phosphate and methane output would be included in future genetic selection.

“There’s a huge opportunity and we need to dig into and understand more about epigenetics – where genes get turned on and turned off,” he said.  “We will have to continue to learn and understand how genes are really working. We are really just scratching the surface now.”

Gene editing could be a “tremendous tool” from bringing the slich gene into the Holstein cow to improve heat tolerance, Mr Mergler explained.

“But a lot of this isn’t going to be the technology holding us back, as much as the consumer perspective,” he said. “A lot of these things we won’t know until we get into the future to know whether these tools are going to be available for us.”


Next week, the conference will hear about the future of Sexed Semen with Sexing Technologies CEO Juan Moreno.