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Today, almost all reference populations consist of progeny tested bulls. However, older progeny tested bulls do not have reliable estimated breeding values (EBV) for new traits. Thus, to be able to select for these new traits, it is necessary to build a reference population. We used a deterministic prediction model to test the hypothesis that the value of cows in reference populations depends on the availability of phenotypic records. To test the hypothesis, we investigated different strategies of building a reference population for a new functional trait over a 10-year period. The trait was either recorded on a large scale (30 000 cows per year) or on a small scale (2000 cows per year). For large-scale recording, we compared four scenarios where the reference population consisted of 30 sires; 30 sires and 170 test bulls; 30 sires and 2000 cows; or 30 sires, 2000 cows and 170 test bulls in the first year with measurements of the new functional trait. In addition to varying the make-up of the reference population, we also varied the heritability of the trait (h2 = 0.05 v. 0.15). The results showed that a reference population of test bulls, cows and sires results in the highest accuracy of the direct genomic values (DGV) for a new functional trait, regardless of its heritability. For small-scale recording, we compared two scenarios where the reference population consisted of the 2000 cows with phenotypic records or the 30 sires of these cows in the first year with measurements of the new functional trait. The results showed that a reference population of cows results in the highest accuracy of the DGV whether the heritability is 0.05 or 0.15, because variation is lost when phenotypic data on cows are summarized in EBV of their sires. The main conclusions from this study are: (i) the fewer phenotypic records, the larger effect of including cows in the reference population; (ii) for small-scale recording, the accuracy of the DGV will continue to increase for several years, whereas the increases in the accuracy of the DGV quickly decrease with large-scale recording; (iii) it is possible to achieve accuracies of the DGV that enable selection for new functional traits recorded on a large scale within 3 years from commencement of recording; and (iv) a higher heritability benefits a reference population of cows more than a reference population of bulls.
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