Eliminating dehorning in dairy cattle

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Hornless cow
The world’s first precision-bred naturally hornless cow. Recombinetics and Semex have formed an alliance to improve animal health and well-being. In the gene editing process the cell’s natural repair function was used to replace the horned gene with a naturally occuring polled gene. (Submitted photo)

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Recombinetics has formed an alliance with Semex, a Canadian-based, farmer-owned cattle genetics organization, to implement a precision breeding program that improves animal health and well-being through hornless dairy cattle genetics.

The dehorning of calves is a routine procedure, designed to prevent injuries both to other animals and to handlers. This is uncomfortable for animals and is an unpleasant task for farm personnel.

By using precision breeding technology, polled genetics can be reliably introduced into elite dairy lines, eliminating the need to dehorn calves.

Dairy farmers prefer hornless (polled) cattle, but traditional breeding for this trait, more commonly found in certain breeds of beef cattle, is inefficient and reduces productivity.

Precision breeding

The alliance’s objective is to seamlessly integrate the polled trait into high-merit dairy genetics through precision breeding. The project is being led by Tad Sonstegard, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of Acceligen, Recombinetics’ agriculture division.

Sonstegard said, “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. We have proven we can safely introduce the polled trait into any breed of horned dairy cattle with complete precision.”

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.

Eliminate stress

Francois-Xavier Grand, corporate veterinarian for Semex says, “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.”

This alliance will begin with a multi-year implementation and regulatory process that will include government regulators, food processors, retailers and other stakeholders.

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