Sarah Kidby spoke to AHDB’s head of animal genetics, Marco Winters, about the role of genetics in boosting farm productivity, helping farmers to make more informed decisons.
Choosing the right bulls to breed from and buying semen are among the most important decisions you will make, as it shapes the herd for years to come and can be the difference between profit and loss, Marco (right) says. Even using the best management techniques, animal performance is limited and can only be optimised by breeding from the best stock.
Genetics help to produce dairy cows that can thrive in diverse farming systems, allowing farmers to improve the health, welfare and productivity of their cows. With AHDB’s latest genetics evaluation coming out in early December, now is a good time to review breeding plans and harness potential gains in the herd.
Before making any decisions on breeding, it is important to assess your herd’s current status, Marco explains. The Herd Genetic Report (HGR) can highlight strengths, weaknesses and genetic potential for dairy farmers who fully milk record. Once areas for improvement have been identified, AHDB’s new Breeding Trait Selector can recommend and prioritise the best genetic traits for the herd, while the Breeding Season Semen Calculator works out semen requirements. Both new tools can be found on ahdb.org.uk/breedingblocks
One autumn calver who uses the HGR, Matt Ford, says: “We’ve been pushing more for fertility rather than milk, so we’re only about 50th percentile in yield, whereas our fertility is in the top 15 per cent. Our milk solids, percentage of fat and protein have improved in the last couple of years… Overall with the Herd Genetic Report, it’s encouraging to see we’re making good progress and our youngstock are now in the top one per cent nationally.”
When selecting bulls, Matt starts at the top of the Autumn Calving Index (£ACI) list and works his way down, making sure they are meeting the levels of fertility, fat and protein he is looking for. By bringing in more heifers, selecting the right genetics and being strict on which cows remain in the herd, he has gradually moved from two 12-week blocks in spring and autumn, to a fully autumn calving herd, tightening up the block to 9–10 weeks.