Industry Farewell to Brian Wickham

My name is Dorian Garrick and I have taken over Brian Wickham’s technical roles in NZAEL in a part-time position. A lot has happened since the then NZAEL Manager Brian Wickham sent the last stakeholder update. On a sad note, Brian was diagnosed in late May-early June with stage 4 cancer and curative treatment was ruled out.

Understandably, he resigned from all work commitments and began palliative chemotherapy. A virtual mini-conference was held near the end of July to celebrate Brian’s contribution to the cattle breeding world, where an international team of industry personnel, farmers and scientists shared their experiences working with Brian. Some 60 participants took part at the Tempero Centre, while others connected on line through 180 sites around the world. The presentations were recorded and the introductory photos can be viewed here (https://youtu.be/EFAn-WgaxIE), the full 2+hour conference programme here (https://youtu.be/8qQLlpljA_s) or my summing up of Brian’s contributions here (https://youtu.be/T_ZwG-UkmFs).

In the late 1970’s and early-1980’s Brian developed the concept of the LIC database, and then managed the R&D to realise that vision. He drove development of the across-breed animal evaluation system that replaced the separate within-breed sire and cow BI and PI evaluation systems. He was instrumental in development of the national breeding objective (NBO), that led to today’s BW system. He worked to optimise the selection pathways in the LIC breeding scheme to speed genetic gain. He directed research to enable bulls to be widely used, so selection could be more intense.

Collectively, these led to NZ enjoying the enviable globally best-practice rate of genetic gain in the pre-genomic era. Brian also initiated genomic research at LIC, before moving to Ireland in 1998 to establish the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).

In Ireland, Brian established their national database system, that went well beyond the system he was able to implement at LIC. It included beef cattle as well as dairy cattle, and later added sheep. It integrated across-breed evaluation systems. It linked data collection activities to meat plants to collect abattoir data for carcass evaluation and for health traits. Working closely with other organisations such as Teagasc, ICBF established measurement of methane, and extended the breeding objective to include this and other environmental traits. He linked the ICBF database system with the national traceback system for monitoring animal movements. He facilitated access to the database for up-to-date research. All these activities formed a good foundation for adopting and leveraging genomic technologies, not only in dairy cattle but also in Irish beef cattle where his activities led to genotyping over 1 million beef cattle. ICBF is world-recognised for adoption of technology and for providing innovation across a wide range of activities related to genetics, genomics and information systems, to support farmer decisions and to deliver improved rates of genetic gain, thanks to Brian’s leadership.

Throughout his time at LIC, at ICBF, and DairyNZ, Brian made significant contributions to global activities, notably to the International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR), and its affiliated organisations, Interbull, and then Interbeef.

Brian promoted the concept of efficient central information systems so that every service user did not have to have an unwieldy and inefficient data supply and access agreement with every other user.

Brian retired from ICBF in 2012, alternating between residences in Clonakilty Ireland, and Hamilton NZ. Consulting activities led to him taking over the role of NZAEL Manager in February 2019, and residing here permanently. From that time until May this year, the interested reader will have already been well informed by his activities relating to the DIGAD dairy information systems and NZAEL animal evaluation, due to the many meetings, newsletters, emails, and video conferences he was undertaking. We are indebted to Brian for gaining momentum in these various activities, all aimed at improving the rate of genetic gain in New Zealand, providing benefits to farmers.

The team that were working with Brian have stepped up to continue his legacy.

Written by Dorrian Garrick

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