Genetic Improvement: Core of the Carabao Development Program

It is said that “development can’t happen in a dash but it takes couple of years to achieve it.” In this context and from indications, the Genetic Improvement Program (GIP) of the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) is making steady progress in its efforts aimed at improving the genes of both the riverine (dairy type) and swamp (native type) buffaloes that will eventually redound to the best interest of thousands of Filipino farmers.

The GIP is the core component in the implementation of the Carabao Development Program (CDP). Its primary goal is to improve the genetic merit of both the swamp and riverine type of buffaloes to produce better sires.

It conducts research for development studies related to carabao upgrading, and genomics, among others, to acquire additional information as well as phenotypic and genetic parameters for its breeding program.

Furthermore, it identifies and selects buffaloes with high quality genetics for use in breeding to increase the genetic potential of the buffalo population in the country for meat and milk production for future generations.

GIP’s role and function

The GIP’s major role and function in the CDP are an integral part in the planning for the improvement of the next generations of buffaloes. This means that exerting crucial endeavors in research for development studies and working in the field are very vital for the attainment of the GIP’s goal.

Over the years since the establishment of PCC in 1993, the GIP’s role to improve the genetic merit of both the swamp-type and the riverine-type of buffaloes has been non-stop.

The GIP’s accomplishments, so far, has seen thousands of the dairy farmers in the country availing of the improved genetics through the use of artificial insemination (AI) and the use of riverine bulls for natural mating to produce quality purebred and crossbred dairy buffaloes.

Thus, the GIP’s researches, selection and ranking processes for the animals with superior genetics have become of great help to the farmers.

Selection and ranking process

According to Dr. Ester Flores, head of the PCC’s GIP unit, the selection and ranking of buffaloes based on genetic merit are being carried out by their unit twice a year.

Dr. Flores explained that they identify young bulls to be recruited for semen collection and eventual progeny testing based on their parent average breeding values (EBVPA) and conformation.

“Only the top 2% of young bulls ranked each year qualify for recruitment,” she said.

“Those selected are sent to the semen station of PCC either in Digdig, Carranglan, Nueva Ecija or in PCC at University of the Philippine Los Baños (UPLB). These buffaloes are screened and required to pass semen quality evaluation before it become semen donors,” she added.

She also said that: “Only about two thirds of the selected buffaloes pass the criteria for semen quality evaluation”.

“From these crops of young bulls selected every year, only eight enter progeny testing. It is only after eight years that the genetic merit of those young bulls the entered the progeny testing become available when the first lactation performance of their respective daughters are known,” she said.

“Following the principle of “mating the best with the best”, highest ranking bulls (elite bulls) are selected and mated with the highest ranking cows (elite cows) located in various test stations to produce the next crop of young bulls from which to select future semen donors outlined above. In this component of the breeding program, young untested (waiting to be proven) bulls are ranked together with senior, proven bulls in the selection process. This is made possible as the methodology for predicting genetic merit, “best linear unbiased prediction” (BLUP), of individual animals included in the breeding program can adequately compare even across ages and thus, the potential contribution of young bulls are not missed out due to their age,” she explained.

She added: “Young bulls evaluated that did not make it to the top 2% are still considered for natural service through the bull loan program of the PCC provided these were screened to be of sound conformation”.

GIP researches

In the last two decades, the GIP’s researches focused on establishing information on individual performances and predicting genetic merit for milk production traits (milk yield, fat yield and protein yield) in dairy buffaloes and average daily gain for growth traits for the swamp buffaloes. In order to do this, genetic parameters such as heritability estimates and correlations of the production traits and the optimum genetic evaluation model for the Philippine dairy as well as swamp buffaloes were estimated. Other traits in support of production such as conformation and milk quality are also considered in research. This will ensure a well-rounded selection process.

These studies helped the GIP to improve its current breeding program system, mating plans for buffalo’s herds and developed genetic evaluation models to better predict higher accuracy of buffaloes having superior genetics.

Flores said that they are continuously conducting this kind of researches to acquire more and more gainful results and information.

She said that they are also conducting new researches to provide additional parameters for new traits and information in the selection and ranking process of the buffalo’s herds.

She said that continuing research include the study titled: “Using random regression test day models to estimate genetic parameters for milk yield and milk components in Philippine Dairy Buffalo”. New researches are also into the use DNA markers as additional information in predicting genetic merit and in shortening the time period in selection of breeders. A project funded by DOST-PCAARRD titled “Genotyping the Philippine water buffaloes using the medium density 90k buffalo Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) panel” is the most recent research undertaking of GIP unit into DNA marker technology as applied in animal breeding.

Flores said that the first of the two research studies is about the evaluation of the buffaloes’ performance based on three traits, which are their milk yield, milk fat and milk protein, using the multi-trait random regression model. She added that this research is expected to result in new progress in this field.

As regards to the other study, Flores said that the 90K SNP chip research is about the use of dense Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) markers associated with the milk production traits of the buffaloes to predict the genetic value or total genetic merit of the animals.

Flores said that the research will help them determine which among the animals are carrying a favorable allele on their genes using the 90,000 SNP markers that are in the SNP chip.

She elaborated that the SNP chip is a type of DNA microarray that is being used to detect polymorphisms (occurrence of two different form or alleles of a gene) on 90,000 DNA markers. It will be used to identify a set of DNA markers in the buffalo that have a significant influence on milk, fat and protein yields, she said.

She added that allele is one of the two or more versions of a buffalo’s gene that undergo mutations and create effects in the milk production traits of the animals. Thus, it is helpful in providing data of the favorable gene that is good to use in the GIP’s breeding program.

Directions of buffalo breeds

Flores said that the following are the directions of buffalo breeds in the country:

First: the swamp-type or the native buffaloes for meat production.

Flores emphasized that they will focus more on improving the meat quality traits of the native carabaos and later on establishes data on estimating the breeding values of these carabaos.

But, right now, aside from the conservation effort of the GIP to the native breeds of buffaloes, she said that they are currently recording the growth rates of the native carabaos for breeding purposes.

She added that, currently there four selected native carabaos in the bull farm in Barangay Joson in Digdig, Carranglan, Nueva Ecija. The selected carabaos, she said, are being used as semen donor for the use of the PCC-trained Village Based Artificial Insemination Technicians (VBAIT) in providing services to the farmers or to the farmers themselves who want to carry or use the native semen for impregnating their female native carabaos in the field.

Second: genetic improvement of the dairy-type for more milk production and the improvement of their milk quality traits.

Flores said their efforts on this concern are focused on the following: enhancing the nutritional value of the buffalo’s milk for the benefit of the main stakeholders in the local dairy industry: the farmers and the processors; improving the dairy-type buffaloes, particularly the males, for breeding purposes as sources of meat; and reproduction of crossbred buffaloes or “mestisang kalabaw”.

Flores said that the study on crossbred buffaloes, which are a product of continuous backcrossing of the native-type and the dairy-type, is headed toward the emergence of “Philippine dairy buffalo”.

Flores said that as part of the effort of the PCC to create or produce the “Philippine dairy buffalo”, the GIP will later on standardized the data and recording system connected to the performance of the crossbreds. Through this, she added, it will enable PCC to state with certainty that the produced breed is truly a “Philippine dairy buffalo”.

Plans

GIP’s plans involve the continuous improvement of the buffalo’s breeds through the conduct of crucial research for development endeavors generation after generation. As of now, researches lined up include studies on somatic cell count, meat quality traits and the creation of a fertility index, among others, which are considered vital in accomplishing their goals.


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