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Review: Opportunities and challenges for small populations of dairy cattle in the era of genomics

  • K. Schöpke (a1) and H. H. Swalve (a2)
Abstract

In modern dairy cattle breeding, genomic breeding programs have the potential to increase efficiency and genetic gain. At the same time, the requirements and the availability of genotypes and phenotypes present a challenge. The set-up of a large enough reference population for genomic prediction is problematic for numerically small breeds but also for hard to measure traits. The first part of this study is a review of the current literature on strategies to overcome the lack of reference data. One solution is the use of combined reference populations from different breeds, different countries, or different research populations. Results reveal that the level of relationship between the merged populations is the most important factor. Compiling closely related populations facilitates the accurate estimation of marker effects and thus results in high accuracies of genomic prediction. Consequently, mixed reference populations of the same breed, but from different countries are more promising than combining different breeds, especially if those are more distantly related. The use of female reference information has the potential to enlarge the reference population size. Including females is advisable for small populations and difficult traits, and maybe combined with genotyping females and imputing those that are un-genotyped.

The efficient use of imputation for un-genotyped individuals requires a set of genotyped related animals and well-considered selection strategies which animals to choose for genotyping and phenotyping. Small populations have to find ways to derive additional advantages from the cost-intensive establishment of genomic breeding schemes. Possible solutions may be the use of genomic information for inbreeding control, parentage verification, within-herd selection, adjusted mating plans or conservation strategies.

The second part of the paper deals with the issue of high-quality phenotypes against the background of new, difficult and hard to measure traits. The use of contracted herds for phenotyping is recommended, as additional traits, when compared to standard traits used in dairy cattle breeding can be measured at set moments in time. This can be undertaken even for the recording of health traits, thus resulting in complete contemporary groups for health traits. Future traits to be recorded and used in genomic breeding programs, at least partly will be traits for which traditional selection based on widespread phenotyping is not possible. Enabling phenotyping of sufficient numbers to enable genomic selection will rely on cooperation between scientists from different disciplines and may require multidisciplinary approaches.

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Corresponding author
E-mail: kati.schoepke@web.de
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