A step-by-step selection process
The selection objectives

Répondre aux besoins des éleveurs
Répondre aux besoins des éleveurs - Crédit : Institut de l’Elevage

 A pivotal first step

Livestock animals are selected to meet certain objectives. The pivotal first step of any selection programme, as well as for its further development or reorientation, is therefore to precisely define the selection objectives to be pursued. They are expressed as a set of traits to be improved, together with their respective weightings.

Objectives most often include a set of production and product quality traits, along with morphological and functional traits. In order to be effective, these selection criteria must be fairly inheritable and easily measurable on individual specimens (or their relatives). Selection criteria have become more and more complex over time in order to incorporate more and more diverse demands.

 Selection criteria tailored to breed purpose

The objectives of French dairy breed selection programmes are currently geared to take into balanced consideration (based on weightings specific to each breed) various criteria surrounding:

  • production traits (milk quantity, protein quantity and content for cheese production, butterfat quantity and content);
  • functional traits (ease of calving, fertility levels, longevity, udder infection resistance, etc.);
  • morphological traits (such as udder conformation to ensure aptitude for mechanical milking, and so on).

For meat breeds, the selection criteria are notably focused on:

  • maternal traits of dams so that they can easily birth, suckle and rear their calves/lambs: fertility, ease of calving/lambing, suckler ability, maternal behavioural traits, reproductive performance, etc.
  • product carcass yield merits (calves, lambs): muscle conformation, ability to produce lean muscle, growth rate, carcass yield, etc.

Since the early 2000s, the progress of genomic analysis has opened up new perspectives. For instance, it has already enabled incorporation of specific criteria regarding the elimination of genes causing susceptibility to certain diseases (such as scapie for sheep production).

Criteria like advanced compositional analysis of milk (casein, triglycerides, etc.) and meat quality (tenderness, juiciness, flavour, etc.) will soon be included in selection programmes (Phenofinlait and Qualvigène research programmes).

 Addressing the concrete needs of livestock breeders and sub-sectors

The purpose of all French selection programmes for cattle, sheep and goat breeds is to enable each breed to best meet the needs of the various sector links, from breeders to consumers. The goal is to optimize breed potential and shape evolution to concord with production system and market developments.

This is why the selection objectives for each breed are only defined and revised (priority traits defined and weighted in relation to one another) once consensus has been reached between the representatives of the various sector supply chain links, from breeder to distributor. To that end, there is a Selection Organization for each breed.

 The Selection Organization (SO): a true breed "parliament"

Each Selection Organization, a true "parliament" for the breed of interest, is made up of three colleges:

  • The "genetic progress creation" college, which gathers together Herd Book core "selectors".
  • The "genetic progress dissemination" college, which gathers together AI servicing centres and sales groups for natural servicing studs.
  • The "genetic progress implementation" college, made up of livestock marketing cooperatives, sector downstream activities (slaughterhouses, processing industries, distributors, etc.) and livestock development partners (EDE, Bovin-Croissance, France Conseil Elevage, and more).

With technical support provided by the INRA [French national institute for agronomics research] and the Institut de l’Elevage, these organizations, which have received Ministry for Agriculture approval, are in charge of defining breed orientations (selection objectives) but also:

  • defining breed characteristics and certifying that a specimen belongs to the breed (or not);
  • maintaining the Herd Book and managing the pedigree Herd Book, a digital database that contains information on breed specimens;
  • issuing official breeder documents (pedigree or export certificate, individual data sheets, etc.);
  • assessing breed morphology (selection of scorecards, collection and recording of morphological data);
  • qualifying (recommending a use) for breeders (young bulls, heifers, cows, bulls) based on their genetic evaluation index (at weaning, post-weaning or IBOVAL);
  • promoting the breed, its selection programme and all its genetic material (breeders, semen, embryos) in France and abroad.

Key figures

  • 3 broad groups of traits for dairy breeds
  • 2 broad groups of traits for meat breeds
  • 1 centralized authority defines breed-specific selection objectives: the Breeding Organization
  • X Breeding organizations for dairy cattle breeds
  • X Breeding organizations for beef breeds
  • X Breeding organizations for meat sheep breeds
  • X Breeding organizations for dairy sheep breeds
  • X Breeding organizations for dairy goat breeds

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