Partnership Aims to Improve Animal Welfare with Genetics

Dehorning could soon be a thing of the past. ( iStock )

Dehorning could soon be a thing of the past thanks to alliance formed by two genetics companies based in the U.S. and Canada.

Recombinetics, a Minnesota company specializing in livestock genetic editing, has partnered with Canadian semen distributor Semex to help bring more polled genetics into dairy cattle breeding. The alliance will help utilize precision breeding in an effort to eliminate dehorning.

The practice of dehorning is common in dairy production as it helps prevent injuries to both cattle and animal handlers. However, dehorning can cause discomfort and pain to cattle. It also requires additional labor to dehorn cattle.

Many popular dairy breeds like Holstein and Jersey have sires with polled genetics, but the overwhelming majority of dairy cattle are horned.

The alliance between Semex and Recombinetics has the goal of increasing the amount of polled cattle with high-merit dairy genetics.

Leading the project is Tad Sonstegard, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer of Acceligen, Recombinetics’ agriculture division, who says polled genetics have been around more than 1,000 years but they aren’t found commonly in high production dairy breeds.

“We have proven we can safely introduce the polled trait into any breed of horned dairy cattle with complete precision. This new partnership will provide unique opportunities for dairy farmers and artificial insemination companies to introduce polled genetics without losing genetic diversity or production potential,” Sonstegard says.

Gene editing will be utilized in the precision breeding process to make minor adjustment in an animal’s genome to replace the horned gene with the naturally occurring polled gene.

“By eliminating the need to dehorn, we eliminate the stress and health concerns associated with the procedure. This benefits the cattle, the farmers and consumers who value animal health and well-being,” says Francois-Xavier Grand, Corporate Veterinarian for Semex.

To begin the alliance there will be a multi-year implementation and regulatory process that will include government regulators, food processors, retailers and other stakeholders.

“The partnership is another example of Recombinetics working with industry leaders to provide solutions that improve animal health and well-being. Recombinetics has a proven track record of delivering science-based solutions across many species for animal and aquaculture health. By partnering with an industry leader like Semex, we’re able to provide a solution that benefits dairy farmers and meets the customer’s desire to buy food from animals raised in a safe and healthy manner,” says Recombinetics’ Chief Commercial and Scientific Officer, Dr. Mitchell Abrahamsen.

“Semex has a long tradition of delivering world-class genetics and reproductive solutions for our customers around the world. We are pleased to be working with Recombinetics to further develop innovative solutions that best serve the needs of farmers while addressing a long-time welfare issue in the dairy industry,” says Dr. Michael Lohuis, Vice President of Research & Innovation at Semex.

For more information on polled genetics and genetic editing read the following stories: