The future of the dairy industry lies in genetic improvement programs and better management of information systems, according to Frank Dickinson, chief executive officer of the National Dairy Herd Improvement Association Inc.
Dickinson, who spoke at the recent 1989 Utah Dairy Convention in Provo, said genetic engineering may someday progress to the point that herdmen will be able to select a cow from a catalog with certain characteristics and have that cow manufactured for them.Studies on qualitative single gene traits are developing techniques that will allow cattle breeders to control specific characteristics such as sex, Dickinson said. Such studies are focusing on gene transfer and cloning techniques to control single gene traits.
"If the technological barriers are overcome, it will change the way (we) develop replacements for a herd," Dickinson said.
Another technological advance called embryo cloning allows breeders to develop twin calves that can then be studied under different environmental conditions to determine which conditions are most conducive to increased milk production.
Quantitative traits, which are governed by a variety of genes and which include such traits as milk, fat and protein production, are more difficult to control because they are largely influenced by environmental effects, Dickinson said.
In the past 40 years, genetic control and environmental management have been primary factors in a three-fold increase in milk production capability. His association estimates that a cow is now capable of producing 14,200 pounds of milk during a 305-day production cycle.
Also, Dickinson said the herd improvement association has adopted a new focus to help unite the dairy industry.
"We are trying to get away from being a regulatory program, and trying to be more of a program that provides management information to dairymen to help them increase profits," Dickinson said.
The group has created a Standards Task Force that will work with the National Cooperative for Dairy Herd Improvement Programs to develop a computerized record evaluation program. Dickinson said such a program would provide increased accuracy and usefulness of herd records and would reduce the bureaucratic burden on the association and state enforcement agencies.
The four major areas that will be tracked in the computerized records program are identification of animals, management system employed, sampling and observation procedures followed and analysis of milk and component data.
"A greater need exists than ever before for closer industry cooperation to strengthen management information systems and genetic improvement programs," Dickinson said. "Dairymen have got to unite and work together or we'll be out of existence."