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Selection intensity increases! – Interview Holstein International

‘The selection intensity in breeding programs will continue to increase!’

says Holger Dressel, Breeding Division Manager at Masterrind

For almost two years the 34-year-old Holger Dresser has been the division manager for Germany’s largest breeding organization, Masterrind. In addition to handling the herdbook and classifications, his work primarily includes the administration and coordination of the comprehensive breeding programs which, in cooperation with its NOG partners, is the largest to be found in Europe. HI met Dressel, who in his time at university focused on molecular genetics and genomic selection, at the head office of Masterrind in Verden.

Mr. Dressel, how many bulls is Masterrind currently testing?

‘As we carry out our breeding program together with our NOG partners Rinder Alliance, RSH and RBB, it makes most sense to give the NOG numbers. Between April 2019 and March 2020, the NOG partners purchased 134 bulls. As the largest partner, Masterrind took over 67 of  them, so 50%. I think that here at Masterrind we will stay in the region of 70 bulls annually for the next couple of years. In total, there are over 4,000 male candidates tested through the NOG. As such, the selection rate is around 3.4% and the persistent development of genomic tests for female and male calves will continue to increase.’

What percentage of the bulls come from your own female donors?

‘As Masterrind we don’t own more than 5 female animals, and the other NOG partners have committed to limiting the number of animals they own. Most of the young heifers that we as the NOG use in our IVF/ET programs are owned by private breeders, or rather co-owned by the NOG partner and the private breeder. For us it is an absolute priority to work together with our members. Of the more than 130 bulls purchased by the NOG partners, 60-70% of them come from female donors owned by our members. At our IVF station in Nückel we produce over 10,000 embryos annually from the roughly 300 animals kept there.’

What percentage of bulls are purchased directly from breeders without a contract?

‘That is probably a good 30% still at the moment. But I think that with our IVF and embryo import programs we have proven that with our sire analysts we have the ability to produce our own genetics. I think that the percent of freely purchased bulls will continue to decrease in the future.’

What percentage of the purchased bulls comes from embryo imports?

‘For us it is important to be able to use genetics that we cannot directly procure here in Germany. Particularly if certain sires of sons
cannot be imported or if there are international female animals that have high numbers on the German RZG basis. In the past year we
imported a total of 280 embryos. With a few exceptions like Canada or the Netherlands, almost all of them came from the USA. This is a
strategy that we will continue to use.’

How do you feel about the phenomenon of using high-testing sires of sons only in your own breeding program?

‘When I started at Masterrind, we busied ourselves with creating pre-release contracts for our own high-testing sires of sons that they
were to be used only in our own breeding programs. But we quickly gave it up. Today, our highest genomic young sires are freely available. Keeping back sires of sons is something I am very critical of. It not only requires additional organizational expense but also doesn’t make sense for population genetics. And of course there is an ethical question. Do we want to accept that certain quantitative or qualitative genetic characteristics are owned by a single AI stud?’

Holger Dressel, Division Manager Breeding, MASTERRIND
‘Withholding sires of sons makes no sense for population genetics!’
says Holger Dressel, Division Manager Breeding at MASTERRIND in the interview
with Holstein International about selection intensity

Are there possibilities despite this to get early access to certain genetics?

‘If we are talking specifically about North American sires of sons, then one only has a chance by buying live bulls directly in the USA. We
have always kept a part of our bulls at Hawkeye Breeders in the USA. Currently there are more than 50 bulls there and many of them have
pedigrees of which we would not have had access via embryo import.’

Are these bulls also selected only by RZG?

‘No; because of our international semen marketing we try and purchase a portion of our bulls particularly based on TPI and increasingly
on $NM basis. Other international breeding indexes play hardly any role compared with these two. But if we happen to come across a
bull that tests high in certain countries, that is a good motivation to buy him.’

How important are other genetic traits for you like polled, Red Holstein or casein profile?

‘Very important! If we would select only by overall index we should have an even greater influence on the top-lists based on our testing
capacity. But if we want to offer special genetic traits to our domestic and international clients – and that is definitely one of our goals – then
we have to be ready to make compromises in terms of the overall index. By now some genetic traits like size, teat length and leg angle have
come to be things to which breeders react sensitively.
That is something we need to bear in mind when making our selections.’


Editor: Stephan Schneider, Holstein International