Magic of genomics to be introduced

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Staff Reporter

Windhoek-Thursday, May 17, is to go down in history as the day genomics came of age for Namibian commercial beef herds and their owners. The annual Hartebeesloop Farmers Day of Dr Joggie Briedenhann will provide the platform for the introduction of ground-breaking DNA technology known as Genomics, which has the ability to predict performance traits. Great advances have been made in the new technology over the past few years and it is now becoming a mainstream tool. Namibia will be one of the first African countries to learn about the implementation of genomic testing.

Other discussions during the day will focus on a looming drought, the theme being “Drought is only a bruise, not a tattoo.” Tonya Amen, with Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI), says uptake of genomic testing had nearly doubled last year, but it is still used on less than 10 percent of the animals in the breed’s registry. Compared to five years ago, today it shows a broader range of commercial tools and dramatic differences in the types of usage. More recently, the growth in usage has come from the ability to predict performance traits.

Genomic information is incorporated directly into the Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) with no need to look at the genomics separately for all cattle breeds using the National Cattle Evaluations standards. That is a boon to both commercial and registered producers.

“There is one number to look at instead of trying to look at two sources of information and figure out how to properly weight them,” Briedenhann says.

EPDs really are the selection tool of choice because they take into account all the information we have about an animal – their pedigree, any performance and progeny information and the genomics. When a commercial breeder buys a bull that has genomic information in the EPDs, they are buying with the same level of confidence in that animal as one that has already sired between eight and 20 calves. It really increases the accuracy on those animals much, much earlier in their lives. The tests have gotten better, but also less expensive.

Costs of tests will be less than one percent of an animal’s 10-year maintenance costs.
In the drought situation where farmers have depopulated herds, farmers will have known quality genetics in their commercial heifers and minimising risks. Good health programmes and nutrition programmes can minimise risks by knowing what is out there in the pasture. Other farmers might use genomics as less of a culling tool and more of a management aid. They may test all the replacements they are certain they are keeping and then use gain and grade information to make strategic matings.

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