Garth Stearn, LIC Territory Manager, had recently visited Rob’s farm with local Agricultural Manager James Agnew: “Using performance data from Rob’s herd, we have helped him understand what type of cow is most efficient in its dairy farming system.While cows often look alike, there are cows and groups of cows in the herd that genetically perform more profitably.
“These are the cows we need to identify to parent the next generation.”
“So our goal is to help Rob see and understand the breeding values that best align with the desired future direction of his dairy business. It’s no surprise to learn that these breeding values desired are strongly tied to raising an efficient, profitable, and sustainable dairy herd.”
Herd testing is an essential part of any herd improvement program, Garth said. Using the data from the herd tests, a solid reliability of the production performance of the cows could be established, which made it possible to use the reproductive indices with confidence when selecting cows.
Over time, verifying the parentage of calves provided assurance that efforts to breed the best replacements were not wasted due to inaccurate calf registration, Garth said.
Breeding values provided insight into ancestry, so an accurate representation of family attributes was fundamental, he said.
“It’s a great process to follow and connects very well with Rob’s natural instinct to ensure the longer term vision is taken to secure the future of his dairy operation.
“So Rob asks, how can I achieve maximum genetic gain and move forward faster? This led to the decision to use the best bulls available in the Forward Pack team, as well as Sexed LLL to target the best cows and he backs that up with accurate decision-making derived from parentage verification and herd testing.”
Marketing non-replacement animals has been a real challenge for farmers, and Rob was no exception, Garth said.
“When he spoke with Rob some time ago, he had access to an export market. There was an opportunity to increase the use of Sexed Semen to meet this market potential. A fallout was accurate parentage using GeneMark Whole Herd analysis – this ensured he could retain the best heifers in his business.”
Rob said another closely related “game changer” last year was the introduction of collar technology to his two farms, allowing businesses to go fully AB: “We’ve also put on wearables because that I need to sustain my farm; we realize that key staff can eventually move on.
“The wearables were a hit. Out of 620 cows on the farm, we only missed submitting seven cows over six weeks, and you have to remember it wasn’t perfect at first because we were just starting to get used to new ways of doing things.”
The use of Jersey Sexed Semen straws in part of Rob’s predominantly Friesian herd was also significant: “I wasn’t sure about the little brown calves in there, because in the end I want a 470kg cow that produces 500kg of milk solids.Traditionally I have had an export market for my surplus Friesians, so I was curious to see what I could get out of a first cross.
“But things went pretty well, because the winter was very wet and we had no problems with calving.”
Short-gestation dairy genetics were used on cows with lower body weights, as well as cows at the end of service. “It was more a matter of days of milk,” says Rob.
“Most of the cows on both farms produce close to 500 kg of milk solids (per year), so at 2 kg of milk solids for another 10 days in milk for a payment of $8 for example, that pays for itself , and it’s dragging cows that go to mate in week 11 to calving in 10. There’s a lot of good things about SGL.”
Garth said Rob’s approach was a classic case of wanting to get the maximum value from a carefully constructed breeding program: “Fundamentally, Rob has great faith in the principles of herd improvement – which is to create selection pressure on the animals, using the best quality bulls, and ensure accuracy of registration through parentage and good, solid herd testing information.
“It certainly applies the basic principles of driving genetic gain rates well.”
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