This new trait has been developed to assist dairy farmers in identifying Norwegian Red genetics with improved feed efficiency to use in purebred and crossbred herds across the world.
This new Feed$aved™ trait will help to breed cows with lower feed intakes without compromising milk value. It is based on feed intake and body weight maintenance.
Data from 1.2 million cows
Geno has used the Norwegian national cattle database, which holds ongoing records on 93% of its cows, to track the cow weights of 1.2 million cows. These weights are used to estimate dry matter intakes required for bodyweight maintenance.
"We have used this data to develop a breeding value for body weight and for Feed$aved™," says Geno's Chief technology and innovation officer Håvard Tajet. "These are available for all Norwegian Red sires. The large numbers of records available and the high heritability of body weight, which is 0.47, means that both breeding values are highly accurate.
"The genetics linked to lower feed intakes, where milk is maintained, have been identified and the information has been used in developing the new Feed$aved™ trait," adds Dr. Tajet.
Smaller cows require less feed
It is well-recognized that smaller, lighter cows will require less feed for maintenance. The Norwegian Red is a moderately sized dairy breed, with an average mature body weight of 610kg compared with the Holstein at 700kg. The average body weight of a Norwegian Red x Holstein crossbred is therefore 655kg. "So as the industry focuses on improved feed efficiency and sustainability, the Norwegian Red already has advantages," he adds.
"However, like all breeds, there is a wide variation within the breed. Geno's project has allowed us to identify the genetics linked to smaller, more efficient cows.
Predicted Transmitting Ability (PTA)
The trait is expressed as a Predicted Transmitting Ability (PTA), in its international markets and particularly in the UK and US where the industry is actively looking to breed smaller, more feed efficient dairy cattle.
The average PTA for the new Feed$aved™ trait is 0.65kg which indicates that the average Norwegian Red sire, when crossed with a 700kg cow – which is the base weight used in this trait – will produce daughters that will eat 0.65kg less dry matter a day due to her smaller body weight.
The top Norwegian Red sires for Feed$aved™ have a PTA of slightly over 1kg. This indicates that a crossbred daughter by one of these sires and out of an average Holstein dam will eat 1kg or less per day than a purebred Holstein due to their smaller body weight. This will reduce feed costs, without compromising milk value, leading to greater efficiency.
Data shows that the Norwegian Red x Holstein crossbred milk value will be within one or two percent for fat and protein production, and between five or six percent for milk volume of the purebred Holstein.
Low correlation with other key traits
In general, body weight has a low correlation with other key traits that farmers will typically select for. So selecting for low body weight will not compromise these other traits. Farmers are encouraged to use the Feed$aved™ trait with additional selection criteria in their programs that will contribute to meeting their breeding goals.
"Improving feed efficiency will reduce the cost of overall production and increase profit, while at the same time contributing to a sustainable global dairy production," says Dr. Tajet.
The Feed$aved™ trait is part of Geno's feed efficiency breeding project that is researching the influence of genetics on sustainable and profitable milk production. It is also measuring and monitoring methane emissions from Norwegian Red cows and on young bulls.
"Our goal is to develop a comprehensive and reliable feed efficiency index for farmers to use as a selection tool in Norwegian Red purebred and crossbreeding programs globally," he adds.