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Lessons From Dairy

Sharing data can add value, but must be managed wisely.

by Troy Smith, field editor

LOVELAND, Colo., June 22, 2018 — Chuck Sattler likes the analogy in which data is likened to fuel that drives the machine. According to the vice president for genetic programs at Select Sires Inc., data drives genetic improvement in cattle breeding. While addressing the 2018 Beef Improvement Federation Convention hosted June 20-23 in Loveland, Colo., Sattler told the audience that data has value and should be managed wisely.

The application of genomics to breeding selection is a growing success story, thanks to advancements in DNA technology. Sattler noted the more than 2 million genotypes that have been used in dairy industry genomic evaluations. For the Holstein breed alone, more that 30 million lactation records have been submitted. However, Sattler called the ability to manage such huge amounts of data vitally important to that success story.

Sattler explained how dairy producers, through 18 farmer-owned cooperatives, submit their collective information to Dairy Records Processing Center, which provides computer processing and database services. Data is transferred to the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB), which conducts national cattle evaluations. Sattler cautioned his audience to remember that possession or control of databases affords power capable of drowning out the voices of those that actually provide data.

“The sharing of stakeholder data with CDCB is guided by a material license agreement. The CDCB can share data with a third party only with the data providers’ permission,” explained Sattler.

“Data has value, primarily when it is shared, but it must be shared thoughtfully. Share data with those you trust, but have a written agreement,” he advised.

Sattler said he wished to dispel the misconception that breeders of dairy cattle practice single-trait selection, focused so narrowly on milk production that fertility and other important traits suffer. He noted positive genetic trends for fertility and health, in particular, achieved at the same time that selection has provided for continued increase in milk production.

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