February 27, 2018

Genomic testing might seem expensive, but it has some benefits that can be seen in the long-run for a dairy. ( Mike Opperman )

In tight economic times, producers have to make tough financial decisions about the genetics of their herd. On one hand, improving genetics doesn’t turn an immediate profit. On the other hand, continuing on a path of better genetics goes a long way toward building a better herd for the future.

“For those producers who have been testing for awhile, they haven’t backed off from testing at all,” says Micah Wallis, animal protein account manager with Neogen Corporation. “They have seen the value in testing and want to keep going.”

Some producers might curtail genomic testing to save money. Wallis has producers who freeze tissue samples until milk prices get to a point where they can afford testing. However, he urges producers to keep testing and identifying those heifers that will potentially be unprofitable as lactating cows.

“I believe the dollars spent on genomic testing is recouped easily by not feeding and breeding a female for two years to ultimately have a cow that will not earn her keep,” Wallis says.

For Alex and Kip Neuenschwander, their average test cost is around $38. They estimate genomic costs on their 400-cow dairy are around $7,000 annually. Two factors help offset expenses:

1. Parentage verification

  • “Probably 15% to 20% of parentage information on a dairy is wrong,” Wallis says. Most of the misidentification comes from improper record keeping.

2. Accuracy

  • Genetic results, depending on the test, range between 70% and 80% accuracy. More accurate results lead to better breeding decisions and more accurate herd rankings.

“Most users find genomic test results as handy a mating tool as they do for keep-cull decisions,” Wallis says. “Knowing which heifer to breed to which bull requires accurate genomic results for greatest results.”

Mike Opperman