The Guernsey Global Breeding Programme (GGBP) was conceived at the 8th. World Guernsey Conference held in Guernsey in 1992 when Dr. Ted Burnside advised that Guernsey breeders across the world should unite to ensure a secure future for the breed.
Since then there has been a huge increase in discussion and co operation between the member organisations of the World Guernsey Cattle Federation. A very important outcome of this has been the involvement of some of the world's leading cattle breeding institutions in the development of a global programme to establish the Guernsey as a modern dairy breed of true economic relevance.
The Guernsey has benefited through WGCF's association with the International Committee for Animal Recording and its sub-committee INTERBULL, the International Bull Evaluation Laboratory based at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala Sweden. Dr. Jan Philipsson, Dr. Freddy Fikse, and Dr. Ulf Emanuelson, with the approval of the Interbull Steering Committee, have been instrumental in improving and expanding the availability of international evaluation data to all Guernsey breeders.
We have been extremely fortunate in our association and friendship with Dr. Maurice Bichard who, as chairman of its Management Committee, has given many hours of his busy life to provide both theoretical and practical help and advice on the development of GGBP.
Prof. John Woolliams of the Roslin Institute is acknowledged as a world authority on the genetic management of small population breeds. He has become very interested in WGCF and the GGBP and as a result developed the Guernsey Merit Index (GMI), a scientifically weighted index, designed to help us achieve our breeding goals for the Guernsey. Dr. Woolliams has also advised us on the design of the GGBP and is now helping in the monitoring and improvement of the programme.
WGCF has helped to fund recent research at INTERBULL to improve the accuracy of proofs by ironing out within country variations. WGCF has also become a member of Genesis Faraday and has benefitted from the following research grants:
WGCF in conjunction with Roslin Institute, Sygen International and The Guernsey Foundation has also funded participation of the Guernsey breed in the Bovine HapMap Project. This is the first step to genomic evaluations for Guernseys and could eventually lead to selection for disease resistance.
None of the of the research and development mentioned above would have been possible without three very important elements. Firstly, the very small cadre of top international cattle geneticists does not involve itself in projects that lack credibility. WGCF, through its global membership approach to the problems that are threatening our breed, has built a strong and reliable relationship with many organisations that are willing to help. Secondly, those organisations have been and are the key to helping WGCF to access the very significant funding that is needed to accomplish the projects to which it has an ongoing commitment. Thirdly, the support of the States of Guernsey is seen by the international community as the authoritative base upon which WGCF and GGBP is founded. This has brought praise for our local government through its continuing commitment to what is seen as Guernsey's farsighted contribution to the maintenance of farm animal genetic diversity, a matter that is very high on the list of priorities of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
In his address at the 10th World Conference, Dr Ted Burnside said 'The focus of an all young sire A.I. programme is on the "Team of Young Bulls", and on steady improvement and slower rates of inbreeding. All of the expertise we have gained in pedigree selection over the past three decades can apply to an All Young Bull Scheme successfully.'
At the same conference, the Scientific Panel (Dr. E. B. Burnside, Dr. J. Philipsson, Freddy Fikse MSc, Dr. J. Woolliams) was unanimous in its view that the Guernsey Breed had a severe risk of losing its commercial relevance but also that it had opportunities provided that the following were addressed as matters of the very highest priority and urgency:
An increasing number of young bulls used for breeding to a MINIMUM OF 75% of females in all countries.
Increasing the number of recorded cows in all countries.
A particularly important and desired outcome of these two actions will be to have MORE COWS SIRED BY YOUNG BULLS included in genetic evaluations.
All the scientists agreed that conventional breeding programmes using proven bulls were no longer appropriate to the Guernsey breed.
GGBP was launched in September 2001 and despite problems created by the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in UK is progressed well with 85% of Mainland Guernsey herds and all Island herds using allocations of GGBP semen.
Over 60 bulls have entered the programme including both UK, Island, US and Canadian young sires. Some 70 cows have been identified as possible bull mothers and will be contract or plan mated. Young sires are released in groups of 2 or 3 bulls as soon as semen is available.
Young sires and their dams are selected using the Guernsey Merit Index (GMI)that was developed from a breeding goals questionnaire circulated to all Guernsey breed societies. The emphasis that breeders in the pilot GGBP placed on various traits was reported to Dr. Woolliams who calculated the index weightings that would produce the desired results.
GMI = SUM((PTA Milk x -0.4) + (PTA Fat x 9) + (PTA Prot x 20) + (PTA Legs & Feet x 10.9) + (PTA Mammary x 24.3) + (PTA SCC x -0.65))
The use of GMI as a selection tool is expected to:
The aim is to breed healthy cows that will milk well produce high components and live a long life with a minimum of involuntary veterinary intervention.
The GGBP Management Committee consists of the members of the RGA&HS Herd Book Council and the EGCS Future of the Breed Committee who meet together with technical advisors Two meetings are held annually, one in Guernsey and the other in UK. The Management Committee has the full support of the States of Guernsey, the Breed Development Panel and the RGA&HS Herd Book Council.
The technical advisors meet twice annually. They are concerned with research and development programmes and finding the necessary funding to continue, expand and improve the programme with the ultimate aim that the GGBP Pilot Programme will eventually become a truly global scheme. One of the greatest barriers to this at the moment is the veterinary restrictions imposed by various countries that prevent international exchange of genetic material (semen and embryos).
In Guernsey the States of Guernsey Department of Commerce and Employment and the Breed Development Panel is responsible for the supply and distribution of semen and management of the Guernsey A.I. Service.
Possible bull dams are selected using the GMI and visual inspection. Mating sires are selected according to guidelines laid down by Dr. Woolliams who has indicated that not more than 3 young sires by the same bull may be used in any one year. The aim of the programme is to use at least 12 young sires across the joint UK/Island populations each year.
In Guernsey, bull calves born to contract mated cows are raised at the new calf unit at Home Farm. Their genetic merit is reviewed as new evaluations become available from DairyCo Breeding+. Final decisions on all bulls that will enter the programme are made by the GGBP Management Committee after the closest evaluation to their planned stud entry dates. All Island bulls also have to meet the standards laid down and agreed by RGA&HS members in the Herd Book rules.
Instead of using the sire pathway, GGBP relies upon spreading the genetics of the breed's best cows through their sons. What the programme lacks in reliability it gains in rate of turnover and reduction of inbreeding. The measure of its success will be a steady advance in the overall GMI of the Island cattle population.
The Genetic Merit for all recorded traits and breeds in UK and the Channel Islands is calculated three times every year by EGENES at Edinburgh University. Results are then sent to the Interbull Laboratory in Uppsala, Sweden, where international evaluations are computed so that every country can express and compare the genetic merit of all animals on each individual country's scale.
Every five years, the national average for every trait is recalculated and reset to zero to account for the genetic progress made.
With the January 2010 proof run the genetic base was re-calculated for all breeds and was reset to the average genetic merit of cows born in 2005.
The table below gives a summary of the base changes for the production and fitness traits, which represent the genetic progress made in the five-year period (with signs reversed). This means that a Guernsey cow that was +112 Milk will now be rated 0 Milk:
From this table it can be seen that the Guernsey breed made very good progress indeed when compared with other breeds and, despite its small population size, was the leader in improvement in Profit Index (PIN), and second overall in progress in the Profitable Lifetime Index (PLI). Guernseys also made more progress in weight of Fat and Fat and Protein percentage than any other breed.
Profit Index predicts the additional margin over food and quota costs per lactation a bull or cow is expected to pass on to its progeny, on the basis of future milk market requirements.
PLI is based on production traits (milk, fat and protein) to which are added health, welfare, fitness and lifespan components. Each trait is weighted by its relative economic value and the resulting single figure represents the financial improvement an animal is, on average, predicted to pass on to its offspring.
The base change for Foot & Leg and Mammary systems was:
Guernsey Merit Index revealed an improvement of 110 points GMI.
These changes almost exactly reflect the progress predicted by Dr. John Woolliams in his original report on the implementation of GMI.
Female Fertility was added to UK Guernsey evaluations in