Superior genes leads to $251,000 sale of dairy calf

February 08, 2017

Last month a 12-week-old Australian Holstein dairy heifer calf, known as Jedi Gigi, sold at auction for $251,000 — the second highest price ever paid for a bovine (beef or dairy) in Australia’s history. This sale will also be the first time an Australian dairy animal will be live exported to the U.S.

Taking into consideration the difficulties currently facing the dairy industry, some may be wondering why a calf could go for such a lofty price. The answer lies in the world of genomic prediction —technology that has been revamping the dairy industry over the past few years.

"Now we can pull a hair sample from a day-old calf and predict its genetic potential," said Declan Patten, the owner responsible for selling the calf.

Patten originally bought four cattle embryos, including the Gigi, from a U.S. company for $20,000. He said he hopes the Australian sale will help promote more investment in the country's cattle genomic industry.

The record-breaking heifer has the highest genomic total performance index (GTPI) of any animal ever to be sold in the world, and is the fourth highest GPTI Holstein ever on record. Through the use of DNA samples, genomic testing is creating a true international market for dairy genetics, one article explains.

The Texas-based company that purchased the calf will export her as soon as protocols are met, and it’s assumed through artificial breeding technologies, a group of descendants will soon replicate the calf’s superior genetic performance.

This type of story is showing just how much genomic prediction is advancing the dairy industry. But what about the beef industry? Is it possible that they will see a 12-week old beef calf sold for a quarter of a million dollars anytime soon?

Well, as the article explains, utilizing genomic data in the dairy industry is much easier than it is in the beef industry and therefore, more advanced. For example, the dominant dairy traits of milk volume and milk composition, can be measure twice a day during lactation, if necessary.

In contrast, the dominant traits in beef — growth and carcass related quality — cannot be measured as often or as easily. Growth, for example, is typically measured two or three times in a seed stock herd animal’s lifetime, while carcass can be measured accurately only once.

Although utilizing genomics in the beef industry is more difficult, there are several main applications. Predominantly used in Angus breeding for the determination of parentage, management of unfavorable genetic conditions and more recently, for the identification of animals with superior genetic merit, other applications also include traceability through the supply chain and verification of breed content for branded beef products.

And, beef breeders have started to take notice of the possibilities. Today, more than 18,000 animals have genomic information incorporated in the Angus BreedPlan, a modern genetic evaluation system for beef cattle. Currently, there is genomic information collected on animals bred in more than 350 herds. About 80 of these herds have collected genomic information on 25 animals or greater.

So, while it’s hard to say if the beef industry will see a 12-week old beef calf sold for a quarter of a million dollars, most can agree that if it does happen, genomic technology will be responsible.

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Neogen Genomics operations deliver innovative, affordable DNA testing for the discovery and commercial application of genomic advances that enhance the safety and abundance of life. Worldwide, DNA testing services are provided for food, animals, aquaculture, agronomy, forestry and horticulture, as well as supporting the research institutions, breed associations and breeding companies serving these industries. For more information, click here.

Category: Genomics