Genomic testing can improve state dairy herds

Genomic testing can improve state dairy herds

A Mississippi State University scientist is using genomic testing to help improve the profitability of commercial dairies in Mississippi. (Photo By: David Ammon)

By: Jessica Smith

Amanda Stone, who became the MSU Extension Service dairy specialist and a researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment station in August, is exploring ways to make dairy herds more efficient. She is studying the advantages of genomic testing in the MSU dairy herd.

"Genomic testing allows access to the entire gene sequence of an animal," Stone said. "By putting the puzzle pieces together, we will have exact performance data on the whole herd."

Genomic tests are straightforward, she said. Agricultural biotechnology labs can test hair samples with root follicles from animals' tails or tissue samples from their ears. Processing results takes approximately six weeks.

Stone said these results help dairy producers predict future profitability potential, allowing them to optimize the yields of their herds by making different animal selection and strategic breeding decisions.

"Having precise data on traits like milk production, protein content and net merit will let us focus on the animal's entire package and analyze them objectively," Stone said. "For instance, if a cow has positive traits, we will know to retain her and her offspring. If a cow's results are not up to our expectations, we will consider culling her from the herd to optimize herd potential."

Genomic testing is a positive investment in refining the Mississippi dairy industry, Stone said. It will enable researchers and dairy producers to evaluate which types of cattle do best in Mississippi's environment.

"We have factors to deal with here in the Southeast that we may be able to improve based on genetic development," Stone said. "While Mississippi producers won't have the same cows with the same genomic compositions as the MSU herd, we are looking for things that they can apply to their own set of animals."

John Blanton, head of the Department Animal and Dairy Sciences in the MSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the university's Bearden Dairy Research Center has integrated technology and new management techniques into its herd to increase milk production and quality.

"The incorporation of genomic evaluation will help us minimize our impact on the environment and improve resource utilization while producing the highest quality products," Blanton said. "Dr. Stone's proven track record of incorporating technologies into small- to medium-sized dairies makes her the ideal candidate to assist Mississippi dairy men and women as they look to improve production and target new markets."

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