Submitted to: AIPL Research Reports
Publication Type: Government Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: November 4, 2008
Publication Date: November 4, 2008
Citation: Van Raden, P.M., Miller, R.H. 2008. The USDA Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory: A century old and just getting started . AIPL Research Reports. HIST1 (10-08).
In 1908, USDA's Bureau of Animal Industry began national organization of regional cow testing associations, which led to the development of national Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA). Data recording and progeny testing were closely connected, and early USDA work helped introduce and advance both. In 1918, USDA began leasing many of its young bulls to other farmers to develop proven sires. In 1926, USDA calculated sire evaluations for 23 bulls and sent those results directly to each bull's owner; the daughter-dam difference was the statistical method used by USDA for the next 35 years. Many of today's artificial-insemination (AI) companies were formed as natural-service cooperatives prior to 1927 by signing USDA forms. The National Association of Animal Breeders can be traced back to those associations formed a century ago. In 1936, USDA recognized the importance of national identification by introducing unique metal eartags. In 1958, 28 AI organizations cooperated to compare their best bulls by mating them to cows in 19 USDA experimental herds. Data processing of cow records and bull evaluations was changed from punched-card processing to electronic computing in 1959. Sire evaluations began to be computed with a herdmate comparison in 1962 so that management differences could be considered. The USDA Laboratory known as the Division of Dairy Herd Improvement Investigations was renamed the Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory (AIPL) in 1972. The modified contemporary comparison was introduced in 1974 to account for genetic trend better. From 1976 to 1995, genetic evaluations for Mexican Holsteins were computed by AIPL. The current animal model was implemented in 1989 and uses the relationships among all cows and bulls to produce more accurate evaluations. The joint North American evaluation of Canadian and U.S. bulls from 1993 to 1996 led directly to the 1995 international system now used by the Interbull Centre to rank bulls worldwide. Much genetic improvement has occurred during AIPL’s first 100 years due to steady advances in data collection, evaluation, computation, and understanding of genetic principles. Much of the credit for that success goes to the Extension Service that promoted and managed data collection in each State, the breed associations and private organizations that interacted directly with breeders, and the dairy producers who participated over the 100 years. Their motives were primarily to gather information to improve management and economic returns, which is still true today. Data recording is considered to be a mark of sound management and is expected to continue to flourish and to expand. The percentages of cows with official records increased from 0.02% in 1908 to 40.8% in 2008. Use of those data for genetic improvement is a byproduct at relatively little additional cost. Public funding for research allowed AIPL to discover and to implement many new tools for use by all breeders nationally and internationally. In 2008, genotypic data and genomic predictions were introduced by the Bovine Functional Genomics Laboratory and AIPL, exactly a century after phenotypic data collection began. With this new tool, dairy cattle breeders can greatly speed the rate of improvement for economic traits by tracing Mendelian inheritance for thousands of genetic markers. As phenotypic data sets, genotypic data sets, and numbers of markers expand, more of the actual genes that affect important traits will become known.