Better Breeding Worth for better herds and a better future.

Current status

Thank you to the farmers and sector representatives who took part in our recent Better BW with genomics consultation. We received a total of 100 submissions; 90 from farmers and the remaining from key sector organisations.

Your feedback has given us valuable insights into areas where there’s strong agreement, different opinions, and where we need to provide more information. See a summary of results in the Proposed operating model consultation section below.

Breeding better herds is about improving the genetics of your cows - ensuring their traits are best suited to your farm. Having a genetically superior herd helps you to create a more resilient farm system, for now and the future.

New Zealand Animal Evaluation Limited (NZAEL) is a wholly owned subsidiary of DairyNZ that manages the National Breeding objective and produces the Breeding Worth Index (BW). BW is used to rank cows and bulls on their expected ability to breed profitable and efficient animals. Find out more about NZAEL.

New Zealand’s rate of genetic gain in our national dairy herd has lagged behind our competitors over the last 10 years. DairyNZ, through NZAEL, wants to improve Breeding Worth to ensure Kiwi dairy farmers remain internationally competitive and more resilient to change.

We believe that we need to act now to bridge the gap – to do this we’re proposing a new Breeding Worth system that’s independent, inclusive and more accurate.

NZAEL believes that using genomic information in Breeding Worth is key to the long-term success of Kiwi dairy farmers and improved outcomes for the entire New Zealand dairy sector.

Why this is important for Kiwi dairy farmers

Improving Breeding Worth (BW) with genomics is about improving genetic gain – breeding animals that are more resilient, more profitable, and easier to farm.

By breeding for selected traits such as milk production and quality, live weight, fertility and gestation length, a farmer’s herd can gain efficiency and profitability with every generation.

A key factor for increasing genetic gain is reducing the generational interval by using younger sires. Using genomics can decrease the generational interval from at least five years to just three years.

Using genomics, New Zealand herds can benefit from improved genetic gain at a faster rate than with the traditional daughter-proving process - see image below.

Genetic gain infographic

The importance of genomics

  • Genomics is the study of genes and their expression as performance or traits – both desirable and undesirable.
  • Genomic predictions require both genotypic data (DNA profiles) and phenotypic data (measurements of performance or traits).
  • Genomics allows for better and earlier predictions of the desirable and undesirable traits of bulls and cows. This information then supports better breeding decision-making.

Better genetic gain - a national opportunity

Genetic gain increases the efficiency and performance gains on-farm from breeding better animals and is key to ensuring New Zealand farmers remain internationally competitive.

How An Animal Compares To The Genetic Base Cow

New Zealand’s genetic gain has steadily increased over the years, but we can do better.

The graph above shows that New Zealand is lagging behind other comparative countries such as Australia, UK and USA. Data used are based on the Holstein breed but similar trends have been seen in Jersey and cross-breeds.

Find out more: In 2020 AbacusBio compared the genetic trends of dairy industries in Europe, North America and Australasia. The study looked at the impact of genomic selection on the genetic progress of dairy cattle. Read the report here:

A better Breeding Worth

There are some steps the dairy sector as a whole can take to improve the system that supports genetic gain for the New Zealand dairy herd, including:

  • Incorporating genomic information into Breeding Worth calculations
  • Collating accurate data and utilising reference populations
  • Collaborating across the sector

NZAEL believes that accurate, independent and inclusive animal evaluation using genomic information is key to increasing profits for Kiwi dairy farmers and improving outcomes for the entire New Zealand dairy sector.

Delivering for Kiwi farmers

We’re aiming to deliver an updated Better Breeding Worth system by 2024. We believe this will give kiwi dairy farmers the best chance of achieving internationally competitive genetic gains. The proposed new system would:

  • Have improved accuracy
    by including all relevant New Zealand genomic and phenotypic information.
  • Have one independent source of Breeding Worth
    enabling farmers to better compare bulls across providers, with the knowledge they are using the same credible data to inform their choices.
  • Be inclusive
    giving all dairy farmers the ability to utilise the NZAEL breeding worth data to improve their herds.

Proposed operating model

NZAEL sought your feedback on a proposed operating model to deliver a Better Breeding Worth with genomics for the New Zealand dairy sector. We heard from 100 farmers, businesses, and sector representatives, who provided us with insights, ideas and suggestions for further development and refinement. We have summarised our findings below*.

Strong agreement

  • One BW that is independently calculated and available to all
  • Principles of success: accurate, inclusive and independent
  • Support for a transparent, industry-good animal evaluation solution
  • NZAEL is best placed to deliver the above on behalf of the sector

Different opinions

  • Using the Milksolids levy to fund an animal evaluation system
  • Fees structure – who pays for what and how much
  • Whether NZAEL should pay royalties to access and use genomic information from commercial companies
  • Need for improved accuracy in Animal Evaluation predictions

More clarity needed

  • Financial model and implications for participants and farmers
  • Potential barriers to bull breeders and new entrants to the market

*Category explanations:

  • Strong agreement = Topic areas with support from the majority of submissions
  • Different opinions = Topic areas where submissions were divided, with no strong agreement for or against
  • More clarity needed = Topic areas where submitters indicated that there was not enough information or clarity provided to give a full response

Additional themes from consultation

  • The need for on-going and incentivized investment into genomic research and development.
  • Farmers don’t want to pay twice, and fees should be kept low.
  • Farmers who pay for genomic testing are not currently able to access their information easily.
  • Uncertainty around who owns genomic data - i.e. the farmer who paid for the testing or the companies that perform the genomic analysis?

Next steps

NZAEL will undertake an indepth analysis of consultation findings and engage in further discussions with stakeholders to refine the proposed operating model. We are committed to delivering an updated Better Breeding Worth system to the dairy sector in 2024.

Frequently asked questions

What is genetic gain?

Genetic gain is the genetic improvement of animals as a result of breeding decisions that benefit the farmer by increasing desirable traits for profitability and improved environmental outcomes. It’s about improving the quality and efficiency of the national herd.

What is the difference between genomics, genotype and phenotype?

A genotype describes the DNA profile of an animal (genes). Phenotype describes how these genes are expressed as performance or traits – such as animal size, milk production, and fertility. Genomics is the study of genes and their expression – the relationship between genotype and phenotype.

New Zealand used to be world-leading in genetic gain – why have we fallen behind?

Other countries have made more use of genomic selection (genomics) than we have by driving more accurate evaluations of young bulls using genomics, which has given farmers greater confidence to use genomic sires.

What’s the advantage in using genomics?

Using genomics can decrease the generational interval from at least five years to just three years by using younger sires. New Zealand herds can therefore benefit from improved genetic gain at a faster rate than with the traditional daughter-proving process.

Through genomics, a much higher number of bulls are able to be screened and assessed for potential, without having to wait for the results of traditional sire proving schemes – this increases selection intensity. This means kiwi farmers can be confident they have access to the best bulls.

NZAEL proposes that New Zealand could achieve a 50% increase in the rate of improvement in Breeding Worth if there was higher uptake, and a good system to incorporate genomic information into New Zealand’s Breeding Worth calculations.

This increase in Breeding Worth would result in an increase in average Breeding Worth from around $10 per cow per year, to $15 per cow per year. Over 10 years this could accumulate to $1.36 Billion for the New Zealand dairy industry.

What’s holding NZ back in terms of progressing genetic gain?

The system supporting genetic gain in the New Zealand dairy herd is large and complex, and involves multiple organisations, such as science research organisations and providers of artificial breeding and herd testing services. Data collection across organisations and among farmers varies considerably in terms of both quality and quantity.

What are the advantages of improving New Zealand’s rate of genetic gain?

Improved long-term herd performance and profitability. By breeding for selected traits such as milk production and quality, live weight, fertility and gestation length, every generation of replacements will be more profitable and efficient than the year before.

What is NZAEL? And what have they got to do with improving genetic gain?

New Zealand Animal Evaluation Limited (NZAEL) is a subsidiary of DairyNZ, which is funded by dairy farmers through a levy. The role of NZAEL as the industry good organisation for genetic evaluation is to ensure that the New Zealand dairy herd is resilient, and that rates of genetic gain are internationally competitive.

NZAEL develops and delivers the technologies that publish the independent evaluation of all dairy animals using the Breeding Worth (BW) index. This is the critical information farmers and industry use to help guide their breeding decisions to increase both the genetic gain of their herds and to increase their farm profit.

What changes are NZAEL proposing to improve genetic gain in New Zealand?

NZAEL is proposing to improve Breeding Worth by including all relevant New Zealand genomic and phenotypic information into a centralised system that’s inclusive for all farmers, independent, and credible.

What is it that NZAEL are proposing? And how is it different to what’s being done now?

NZAEL is proposing a single national animal evaluation system that calculates breeding worth with genomic information to improve New Zealand's rate of genetic gain. This would create a single, independent source of breeding worth, which currently doesn’t exist. The proposed new breeding worth would be available for all farmers to use when comparing bulls and cows, regardless of who a farmer’s service provider is. Farmers will then be able to make better breeding decisions that are best suited to their farm.

What’s wrong with the current system in New Zealand?

Genomic predictions require both genotypic and phenotypic data. Most genotypic data are currently held in New Zealand by commercial entities – mainly CRV and LIC. There is no independent source of genomic information and animal evaluation.

NZAEL is proposing to collate all genotypic and phenotypic data into one national system. A centralised source of Breeding Worth will reduce fragmentation within the sector and will provide more reliable predictions as more of the data available will be utilised.

New Zealand currently has three different Breeding Worth being produced by CRV, LIC and NZAEL and each has a different outcome. This creates confusion for farmers.

Why is NZAEL acting now to improve genetic gain?

Independent research by The New Zealand Institute for Economic Research in 20211 showed that New Zealand’s structures for animal evaluation were not delivering the best possible rates of genetic gain. Although the technology of genomics is available in New Zealand, the uptake of the technology has been slow. However, genomics is now significantly more advanced both internationally and within New Zealand. The timing is right to take advantage of this technology. To remain internationally competitive, it’s important that New Zealand doesn’t lag behind in genetic gain - and acts sooner rather than later.

Results from the AbacusBio 2020 study showed that New Zealand is lagging behind other comparable countries such as Australia, UK and USA. Their research showed that other countries have seen a doubling in their rate of genetic gain with the implementation of genomic evaluations.

The New Zealand Institute for Economic Research developed a report for the Ministry of Primary Industries on Dairy herd improvement: What evidence do we have on the linkages between market structure, incentives, and performance? (NZIER 2021)

How will the new system be funded?

NZAEL has developed a proposed operating model of payments for data provided, funded from fees paid by all participants to access NZAEL services. Alongside the Milksolids Commodity Levy funding that NZAEL receives, fees will also apply for new services for bull and cow owners.

This means:

  • Bull owners will pay a fee for screening their bulls and for enrolling them with NZAEL.
  • Cow owners will pay fees (most likely indirectly) for enrolling their cows through herd records providers, or for receiving genomic breeding worth predictions for their cows.
  • A straw levy may also be collected to fund additional services in the system.

What will the cost be for farmers?

The proposed operating model won’t necessarily see farmers paying more, but it will make the costs more transparent.

The main contribution of funding to animal evaluation will continue to come from the Milksolids Commodity Levy. As the new system is being set up, the funding NZAEL receives from the Milksolids Commodity Levy will remain consistent with its prior funding arrangements (i.e. the 2022 level of funding). Overtime, the operating model may be self-funding to the point where the Milksolids Commodity Levy contribution could be reduced.

The second largest contribution of funding will come through bull owners payments of screening and enrolment fees. These fees must strike a balance between being low enough to attract bull owners and new participants to screen a large number of animals for genetic merit in our system, versus being high enough to reflect the investment made in the system and information to which they now have access.

The remaining funding will come through dairy farmer payments of fees for enrolling cows, collecting female genotypes (if chosen) and a straw levy (20c a straw). These fees, while a change from the current amount of investment required for animal evaluation, are justified due to the independent, inclusive and accurate system being delivered.

Are the proposed changes fair to all farmers?

NZAEL will ensure that:

  • All users pay a fair price for the use of information and services.
  • All participants are paid fair royalties for access to their genomic data.

Why should farmers support the NZAEL’s proposed new system?

NZAEL believes that accurate, independent and inclusive animal evaluation using genomic information is key to increasing profits for Kiwi dairy farmers and improving outcomes for the entire New Zealand dairy sector.

Genetic gain provides significant value for the dairy sector. Farmers benefit from the efficiency and productivity gains that come from better genetics passed on to their animals. Farmers get animals that are more resilient, more profitable, and easier to farm.

What data are NZAEL filtering?

NZAEL is filtering phenotypic information from DIGAD that doesn’t add value to animal evaluation. For example: when many animals from the same herd have the same calving or mating date. This can create bias in the calculations for individual traits that make up Breeding Worth.

This data influences the accuracy of your animals Breeding Worth and flows back to the Sire’s Breeding Worth and Reliability. NZAEL wants farmers to have access to the most accurate information to make their breeding decisions.

Page last updated:

6 Sep 2023


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