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Holstein genetic diversity study underway

Researchers are trying to bring genetic diversity back into America’s Holstein dairy herd.

Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Professor Chad Dechow tells Brownfield they are studying the Y chromosome.  “The Y chromosome is important for masculinity traits and also for male fertility, so we really don’t have very many opportunities to improve male fertility through genetic selection within a breed when we’ve basically eliminated all of the variation on the Y chromosome.”

DeChow says the reason much of the dairy breed’s variation has been eliminated is that every Holstein in America today can be traced back to two bulls from the 60’s…. Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief and Round-Oak Rag Apple Elevation.  He says having little to no genetic diversity makes cattle more susceptible to disease and vulnerable to environmental changes.  “I’ve been told by some that they think that calf health has changed over years and that maybe our calves aren’t as healthy as they used to be, so those are some traits where we might be able to recapture a little bit of genetic diversity and add that back into our current population.”

The Penn State study is using Holstein genetic material from the National Animal Germ Plasm Program stored during the 50’s and 60’s before artificial insemination became common.  The samples came from two lost Holstein lineages at the University of Minnesota and ABS Global.  Penn State is now studying the genetic makeup of six new calves from this semen.  Ten more calves are due this fall.

Dr. Chad Dechow talks with Brownfield’s Larry Lee about the Holstein genetic diversity study.

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