Dairy farmers prefer hornless cows, but traditional breeding for this trait, more commonly found in certain breeds of beef cattle, is inefficient and reduces productivity. However, by using precision breeding technology, hornless (or polled) genetics can be reliably introduced into elite dairy lines, eliminating the need to dehorn calves.
Precision breeding uses gene editing to make small adjustments to the genome of an animal to delete, repair, or replace individual elements of DNA. In this case, the cell’s natural repair function is used to replace the horned gene with a naturally occurring polled gene. The result is dairy calves that are born naturally hornless, providing a direct benefit to the animals’ well-being and health.
The dehorning of calves is a routine procedure, designed to prevent injuries both to other animals and to handlers. In general, the process is uncomfortable for animals and is an unpleasant task for farm personnel.
“The polled trait has been part of bovine genetics for more than 1,000 years, and it has been conventionally bred and selected for in some cattle breeds, but not in most high-merit dairy breeds,” said Tad Sonstegard, chief scientific officer with Recombinetics’ agriculture division. “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.”
This alliance will begin with a multi-year implementation and regulatory process that will include government regulators, food processors, retailers, and other stakeholders.