It’s 2.30 pm and time to leave the warm and cozy stable for the daily hour of outdoor exercise. Some of the Finncattle kept at Ahlmans Vocational College are highly reluctant to the idea of heading out into the chilly wind at the Tampere countryside, but the students at the college come out of the battle as the more stubborn species.
“We have about 40 Finncattle here of three different breeds here. The Western Finncattle is entirely brown, the Eastern (which also is the most stubborn breed) is white-and-brown and the Northern Finncattle is white with black markings” said Riitta Niranen, Project Manager at Ahlmans.
“Today, less than one percent of the dairy cattle in Finland is Finncattle. They have been replaced by the major commercial breeds, such as Holstein”, Riitta Niranen said.
This fact is stated once again the day after as the workshop “Genomic Selection in Small Populations – what, how and why?” as Terhi Vahlsten, a Geneticist at Faba, holds her presentation about the population structure of Finncattle breeds.
“The Finncattle is not endangered anymore, as we are doing a very active breeding work in Finland. But we are very worried about the fact that they are not very widely used in dairy production anymore” she said.
Another presentation held by Anna Schönertz, postdoc at Aarhus University gave some valuable insights in the origin and history of the Northern European cattle breeds.
“When it comes to the cattle breeds in the Nordic countries, it’s actually only the Danish Red which is genetically a pure breed. The other breeds all have been mixed between the different countries” she said.
Unfortunately, there are only 200 individuals left of the Danish Red.
As the sun sets in the Finnish afternoon, the Northern Finncattle cow Ylläs can leave the chilly outdoors and return into the Ahlman stable again. In Espoo, more than 50 workshop participants are instead leaving the warm indoors to catch planes, trains and buses back home, filled with new an important knowledge of genomic selection in small populations.
Genomic selection has proven to be an efficient application in dairy cattle. Dairy cattle breeds have in general optimal population size for genomic selection. Moreover, long-term breeding for economically important traits has modified the populations to be uniform. While in native breeds, financial investment required for the introduction of genomic selection has held the deployment of the in addition to heterogeneous population and modest census population sizes. Nevertheless, genomic information has a substantial impact on the management of relationships and inbreeding coefficient, especially in small populations.
The coin has two sides; it is crucial to find the proper balance between the genetic gain and diversity. By selecting the best individual of the breeding population, one can maximise the genetic profit but simultaneously it increases the level of inbreeding and hence diminishing the genetic diversity. In order to ensure sufficient diversity, special attention must be paid to the selection of unrelated individuals.
The breeders for the Finncattle have been waiting for start-up the genomic selection for a while. Researchers at the Natural Resources Center have started the genome selection project in co-operation with Faba osk and Viking Genetics. In the first stage, genomic selection is introduced to the Western Finncattle, especially which it is anticipated to boost milk production. Later on the application will be extended to all three Finncattle breeds. This project is financed by the Finnish Foundation for Finncattle (Suomenkarjan jalostussäätiö).
Nordic Genetic resource center (NordGen) is organising the workshop on “Genomic selection in small populations” in Espoo, Finland. At the workshop experiences of two case studies are presented by Iceland and Finland. In addition to that, many top European experts are participating in the workshop.