Genetic service aids herd health and cuts antibiotic use

Members of the country’s largest producer-owned dairy co-operative, First Milk, will be among the first British farmers to gain access to an innovative new service which will help them improve their herd health while cutting down on the use of antibiotics.

The new ‘GenoCells’ technology provided by National Milk Recording (NMR) will improve herd management by providing individual cow somatic cell counts (SCC) - which give an indication of mastitis or other udder infections in a herd - from a single bulk milk sample using genomic data.

From its formation in 1943 NMR has developed into an integrated service provider, working for both farmers and milk buyers as well as an independent source of data for third parties such as vets, farm consultants and breed societies.

The organisation claims that the new service will allow farmers to take a fast and targeted approach to treating individual cows with elevated somatic cell counts - but which are not displaying signs of clinical infection, improving cow health and welfare. It also provides information to help focus selective dry cow therapy.

“For First Milk, our objective was to assess if GenoCells technology could provide robust and accurate data on which to base selective dry cow therapy, reducing reliance on antibiotics and improving herd welfare,” said First Milk’s Toni Bruce.

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“Now several months into the project, we have no doubt around reliability of the service and see this ground-breaking technology opening the door to unrestricted, flexible access of individual cow somatic cell count data.”

He said that as the technology relied on genomic data, the real bonus to this service was receiving an evaluation of genetic potential for every animal in the herd.

“We see this information as key to better efficiency for our farms, enabling members to progress and optimise herd economic and environmental potential at an accelerated rate.

He said the service offered a cost-effective and convenient introduction to udder health management and herd improvement services for those farms not currently recording.

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Milk producer Matt Tinney, one of the farmers trialling the new technology, added: “We have considered milk recording in the past, but we managed cell counts through ad-hoc testing, which is always a bit of a guessing game!

“The monthly testing is simple and straightforward, with the data provided enabling us to target and deal with those chronic sub-clinical cows, bringing our herd cell count down to below 100,000 cells/ml for the first time ever.”

NMR’s genomic products manager Richard Miller has monitored the success of GenoCells in this pilot project with First Milk.

“GenoCells takes advantage of DNA data stored for each animal in the herd which must be derived from NMR’s genomic testing service GeneEze, or via Zoetis’ Clarifide or Genus’ GENEadvance services.

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“It is the first of many services that will take advantage of detailed and accurate genomic data on each animal and use it to target improvements in sustainable and cost-effective cow management in future.”

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