Relatedness between numerically small Dutch Red dairy cattle populations and possibilities for multibreed genomic prediction

J. Marjanovic, B. Hulsegge, M.P.L. Calus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Red dairy breeds are a valuable cultural and historical asset, and often a source of unique genetic diversity. However, they have difficulties competing with other, more productive, dairy breeds. Improving competitiveness of Red dairy breeds, by accelerating their genetic improvement using genomic selection, may be a promising strategy to secure their long-term future. For many Red dairy breeds, establishing a sufficiently large breed-specific reference population for genomic prediction is often not possible, but may be overcome by adding individuals from another breed. Relatedness between breeds strongly decides the benefit of adding another breed to the reference population. To prioritize among available breeds, the effective number of chromosome segments (Me) can be used as an indicator of relatedness between individuals from different breeds. The Me is also an important parameter in determining the accuracy of genomic prediction. The Me can be estimated both within a population and between 2 populations or breeds, as the reciprocal of the variance of genomic relationships. We investigated relatedness between 6 Dutch Red cattle breeds, Groningen White Headed (GWH), Dutch Friesian (DF), Meuse-Rhine-Yssel (MRY), Dutch Belted (DB), Deep Red (DR), and Improved Red (IR), focusing primarily on the Me, to predict which of those breeds may benefit from including reference animals of the other breeds. All of these breeds, except MRY, are under high risk of extinction. Our results indicated high variability of Me, especially between Me ranging from ∼3,500 to ∼17,400, indicating different levels of relatedness between the breeds. Two clusters are especially important, one formed by MRY, DR, and IR, and the other comprising DF and DB. Although relatedness between breeds within each of these 2 clusters is high, across-breed genomic prediction is still limited by the current number of genotyped individuals, which for many breeds is low. However, adding MRY individuals would increase the reference population of DR substantially. We estimated that between 11 and 133 individuals from other breeds are needed to achieve accuracy of genomic prediction equivalent to using one additional individual from the same breed. Given the variation in size of the breeds in this study, the benefit of a multibreed reference population is expected to be lower for larger breeds than for the smaller ones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4498-4506
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number4
Early online date4 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • effective number of chromosome segments
  • genomic selection
  • Red dairy cattle breed

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