Better Herd Podcast – Episode 1: Let’s talk animal evaluation


Better Herd Podcast Episode 1: Let’s talk animal evaluation


Sheryl Haitana talks to CRV’s Jon Lee and NZAEL’s Brian Wickham about the new genetic evaluation system for dairy cattle and what the changes mean for farmers.


“For more information, check out Sheryl Haitana’s article in the latest issue of the NZ Dairy Exporter.

What changes are being proposed to animal evaluation?

CRV and LIC are collaborating with DairyNZ subsidiary NZAEL on a project to replace genetic evaluation software with a nationally consistent, independent genetic evaluation system for dairy cattle.

There will be multiple improvements as part of the new software release, called NZAEL 2.0.

Two of the most significant changes are better recognition of trait differences between breeds, in particular for fertility, and the removal of the effect of inbreeding* on breeding values. This work has been funded by levy investment from DairyNZ, and by LIC.

* In general, inbred animals will perform more poorly than the average of their parents for a wide range of traits. This reduction in performance is called inbreeding depression. Inbreeding depression is a non-additive genetic effect. These effects will not be inherited by the animal’s offspring, and so the depression in performance is disregarded when computing an animal’s estimated breeding value.

What will be the benefits of the changes for farmers?

The result will be more accurate genetic evaluations, which will draw on ten years of New Zealand and international research.

Dairy farmers will benefit from an enhanced genetic evaluations system that underpins the national breeding objective and evaluations farmers use to make breeding decisions.

It will enable farmers to breed cows that are more efficient at converting feed into milk and profit. This has benefits for our environment and economy.

These changes support our national breeding objective and, when completed in 2021, will represent the greatest improvement to the animal evaluation system since the introduction of breeding worth (BW) in 1996.

What changes will farmers see to breeding company reports?

The reports farmers will receive from their breeding companies from now on will look very similar. The main difference will be that some farmers may see their animals re-ranking on BW as genetic evaluations become more accurate.

What the process for making these changes? Was testing carried out?

The previous genetic evaluation model, NZAEL 1.0 was developed by LIC in 2006, and adopted by NZAEL for the wider industry. The new system incorporates LIC’s latest software and models, and NZAEL research and development. It has been extensively tested and scrutinised by internationally renowned geneticists.

A scientific advisory committee, with animal genetics experts from New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the Netherlands has also peer reviewed and endorsed the upgraded system, which has been rigorously tested.

What are farmers & breeding companies saying about the new system?

“The new system contains a number of enhancements which will result in more accurate and timely information. This will enable improved breeding decisions to be made which benefit farmers and the dairy industry.” – Anna Kempthorne, Te Anau farmer, NZAEL director, and chair of the 12-member Farmer Advisory Panel who reviewed and tested the changes to the system.

“The upgrade in genetic evaluation software will provide more accurate predictions of animal genetic merit. This information forms the foundation for CRV’s genomic evaluations and allows us to continue to breed bulls for New Zealand conditions.” – Jon Lee, National Sales and Marketing Manager, CRV Ambreed.

“We now have new software available that can compute larger quantities of data and give us greater insights into animal performance, which enables farmers to improve the performance of their herds overall by breeding more productive and efficient cows.” – Malcolm Ellis, General Manager NZ Markets at LIC.

What are the next steps?

The updated animal evaluation system is the first step towards February 2021 when NZAEL, in continued collaboration with LIC, CRV and DairyNZ, and other industry stakeholders, plans to complete another system upgrade. This further upgrade will include genomic data in the national evaluation system.

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