Collection of Data for the Genetic Improvement of Health Traits in Australian Dairy Cattle

Mary Abdelsayed, Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Sydney, Camden, Australia

M. Abdelsayed1*, P. Douglas1, J.E. Pryce2
1Holstein Australia, Hawthorn East, VIC, 3122, 2 Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Government of Victoria Bundoora, VIC, 3083

A growing concern for dairy farmers is the improvement of dairy cow health through genetic selection. Healthy cows are more productive, easier to manage, require less intervention, have improved animal welfare and contribute to profitability by reducing production costs. However, in many countries, including Australia, industry collection of data on common health events has been sub-optimal or absent, which means there is no ability to provide breeding values and apply genetic selection for common health disorders. Also, such traits are low in heritability, meaning that although genetic progress is feasible, it will be slower. While many farmers may collect some of this information on farm, there is likely to be variation in the completeness of these data sets. In Australia, there is little storage or export of such information from some on-farm software packages into industry databases for research or reporting purposes.
Before any work can begin on providing Australian farmers with breeding values for common health disorders, it is important to quantify what data is already being collected on farm and in veterinary practices. As a result of this challenge, the health data for healthy cows (HDHC) project has commenced to help improve our understanding of the extent of health data recording in the Australian dairy industry. The HDHC project will use infrastructure through the Dairy CRC in the form of the 100 ‘Ginfo’ (Genomic information) herds to collect all health data that is currently being amassed on farm. The Ginfo data is being used as a genomic reference population for genomic breeding values. One of the advantages of having a genotyped population is that it opens up new opportunities for new breeding values, such as dairy health traits. A survey was given out to the 100 GINFO farmers to get an understanding of the health data collection and storage methods that occur on farm. Health data files were collected from the respective herd test centres of these herds. Health data obtained from herd test centres totalled 275,729 records from just 46 out of the 100 herds (To date). The four most recorded health diseases identified were mastitis, reproductive problems, lameness and metabolic disorders. This is fairly consistent with the survey conclusions on what farmers indicated they record and what they think is most important. Mastitis having the highest incidence with 20% of cows affected, followed by reproductive problems (12%), lameness and metabolic disorders (5% and 3% respectively). This project has provided an insight into what health information is actually being collected on farm and that there is a source of health data available which can be accessed and potentially used for the genetic improvement of health traits in Australian herds and potentially providing genomic breeding values for new health traits such as lameness which is a trait in demand requested by Australian dairy farmers.

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