BAIRNSLEY  HIGHLANDS

DNA Parentage Verification
(Your pedigree guarantee)

Since 2007 we have performed DNA analysis on our animals for the purpose of verifying their parentage. Tail hair samples are collected (How to do this?) and submitted to Pfizer Animal Genetics where they are analysed for 38 specific genes (2 alleles at each of 19 sites on the DNA strand). These are compared with the markers of both parents to confirm (or deny) that they were indeed the sire and dam, in exactly the same way DNA profiles are used in our courts where disputes over parentage occur with children.

This gives us surety that our animals are indeed who we think they are, and for anyone purchasing animals from us, confidence that their pedigree is true and accurate. No breeder can ever be 100% sure that every calf born has a known sire. Sometimes a bull can jump a fence and get back without anyone noticing. Sometimes AI straws get mixed up. While we all do our utmost to prevent these accidents, they still occasionally happen. At Bairnsley, we choose to take any doubt out of the equation with our calves nowadays. For some breeds this has become mandatory for all calves to be registered.

How does Parentage Verification Work?

These 19 gene loci (markers) are analysed for the purpose of animal ID only. They do not relate (that we know of) to any other major characteristics in cattle. There are several different possible markers at each gene locus but one thing is always true - one gene at each locus will come from the dam, and one from the sire. From this fact the possibility of a certain sire or dam being the real parent of a calf can be ascertained with a high degree of certainty.

For example, in the results to the right, the first marker, BM1818, has a gene at each of its alleles - 258 & 270. If say the 258 came from the dam, then the 270 must have come from the sire. This is the way it works - one from each parent. If the expected sire didn't have a 270 for this particular marker, then you would expect other mismatches with the rest of the markers. If this were the case, you would have to start to look for another likely Daddy for this calf. You would then start to consider all the possibilities where things could have gone wrong - like submitting the wrong hair sample, contamination of the hair sample with other DNA or perhaps a bull did jump a fence? There will be a reason, it is just a matter of finding it.

What happened with Philip 1st of Hi-Arrow?
This is the process that lead to the discovery of the real sire of Philip 1st of Hi-Arrow (Can 9,609) in November, 2010. An initial DNA test was performed to verify that Philip of Strathallan (UK 6,983) was his sire, and an eroneous result showed up. Upon further testing, it was confirmed that he was indeed not the sire. At this stage all the DNA results on record for possible AI sires and live bulls that could have been the sire of Barbara Goalach of Talbot's calf showed a perfect match for Bart of Benmore (UK 7,177). This was an AI sire present in the tank at the same time as Philip of Strathallan and one would guess that the AI technician picked the wrong straw out (& obviously didn't check the name on the straw) and this was the calf that resulted. Although this should never really happen, I think we can all see that it would be quite possible. At the same time, Barbara Goalach of Talbot was confirmed as the dam. Thank goodness for DNA tests and DNA records.

How Accurate are these Tests?

The simple answer is - very accurate. There are a number of alleles possible at each of the 38 sites and so the chance an individual animal being the same as another is many millions to one. The only variation lies in the fact that different lab may test for slightly different markers, but 12 of them will be the same because of certain international standards. Pfizer is a part of the International Society for Animal Genetics (ISAG) which means they participate in a world wide comparison test every 2 years. This international standard allows similar labs to report their DNA profiles in the same way so that they can be easily compared & scrutinised. Not all labs are a part of ISAG.

Occasionally an erroneous results will crop up for one particular marker of the 19, and while you still probably have the correct sire & dam, the DNA analysis can be repeated to be sure. If there is still a problem, then second sample from each animal (calf, sire and dam) should be re-submitted.

Other DNA Tests

There are a number of other DNA tests available at the moment. Pfizer has tests for markers denoting things like marbling & feed efficiency tendencies. While these tests appear useful, and while they are more accurate than when they first came out, their predictive value is still not high. It is expected that over time this will slowly improve however.