Narrow Breeding Criteria Strike Again...

From Agrilife, apparently we're going to spend 3 million bucks to confirm the obvious - if you only breed for one thing, maximum milk production, you will be casting a lot of other critical traits to the winds:

“Fertility is a critical component of efficient dairy production,” Pinedo said. “Failure to attain and maintain a timely pregnancy is a major reason for production loss in dairy herds. Consequences of low fertility include a reduced percentage of cows at the early stages of lactation, increments in insemination costs, premature culling and delayed genetic progress.

“The decline in fertility of dairy cows has been a concern for the dairy industry and has motivated profuse research in the last decades,” he said. “Multiple variables have been identified as contributing factors to this condition.”

Development and implementation of genetic selection of dairy cattle has been the major method to improve productivity per animal; however, the selection emphasis has been focused on production traits and only more recently on reproduction and health traits, Pinedo said.

“Traditionally, fertility has not been related to genetics, but rather to environmental factors such as nutrition and management,” he said. “But recently, the role genetics play has come under more scrutiny. We have to separate the environmental components so the genetic effect can be isolated.”

Or, of course, we could simultaneous recognize the value of genetic diversity while also paying dairy farmers adequately so that they don't have to sacrifice everything else - longevity, good health, foraging ability and fertility on the alter of a tiny bit more milk in the short term.  We could stop treating cows as milk-machines that just need a the isolation of one more genetic factor to tune-up optimally and start treating them like, well, living things.


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naw, they are/will become another form of patented life...
do you suppose that this problem is actually planned obsolesence? like consumer products made to fail prematurely?

Emmer, not quite planned obsolescence, but in the ballpark. I think for the merchants of industrial agriculture, the costs of narrow genetics is not really a "problem" since I have no doubt the "solutions" - in the form of medicines, treatments, etc. offer a nice revenue stream to many of the same players.

By Andy Brown (not verified) on 07 Mar 2013 #permalink

The problem exists because of marketing -- it is the technology and business models that make "superior" semen available in bulk. So that everyone wants that "good stuff".

Keeping a bull around looks like a needless expense, if you can breed every year without it. And why worry about the genetics if you aren't going to keep most of your calves? The dairy agribusiness is predicated on the big operations -- the packagers and milk handlers don't want to bother with the meager 8 cow operation they forced my father to quit back in 1968 -- this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Grocery stores want suppliers with dependable product, in quantities large enough that they only deal with a few suppliers. Small farms, farms with enough pasture to make pasture worth while, cannot supply milk in that quantity.

The USDA has shut down with a de facto ban on small operations. Big operators and the government have set handling and equipment and process regulations in place that prevent most anyone with less than a hundred cows -- too many to take care of individual cows -- from starting. The cost of all that specialized stainless equipment, in order to *sell* that milk, is prohibitive. Let alone the automatic barn cleaning equipment required.

The genetic fragility is entirely predictable. But it is also part of the underpinnings of what "Got Milk?" stands for -- business too big to adapt very much.

Here's a nice post today on how honey bees are suffering from genetics that have been growing ever more narrow. Industrial agriculture stressing them from one direction and industrial beekeeping doing them in from the other: Why did they die.

By Andy Brown (not verified) on 07 Mar 2013 #permalink

> Keeping a bull around looks like a needless expense, if you can breed every year without it.

Having a bull around does also have some safety implications. There is more than one reason that insemination is the method of choice, not only for large scale diaries, but also for homesteaders and other small producers.

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