Huge genetic gain and improved profit margins in the dairy industry are possible within a matter of years by concentrating more on sexed semen and genomics.

That was the welcoming news from Bishopton vet and Nuffield Scholar, Neil Eastham, speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Conference in Telford, recently.

“Genomic testing is revolutionised breeding within the dairy industry. Since it’s introduction in 2009, the rate of genetic progress across the national herd has pretty much doubled,” he said adding that without genomic testing it is not possible to accurately predict the breeding potential of an animal.

While young genomic bulls account for 70% of all inseminations on UK milk recorded farms, to date the uptake of genomics in this country remains low in comparison to other major dairy countries.

Up until January, 2019, the UK had tested just 90,000 animals, compared to New Zealand which had tested 140,000 head; France, 550,000; Netherlands, 465,000; Germany, 785,000 and Ireland which had tested 1,500,000 beef and dairy animals.

Using sexed semen from high genomic ranked sires Mr Eastham said would ensure producers had an increased number of heifers to select replacements from, and to sell.

Genomic testing those heifer calves would then enable the best heifers to be retained for breeding while also increasing the potential value of the remainder to sell in the market place.

“By generating a surplus of heifers, the bottom 10-15% could be sold once they are genomic tested. The uplift in genetic merit of those retained is what is really crucial when looking to realise a return,” he said.

In using sexed semen from high genomic sires on the top end of the herd to produce additional females, he added that more beef semen could be used on the bottom half to produce calves of better quality and again of higher value.

Backing up these statements, figures from Mr Eastham’s family farm at Walmsley Fold, which has used genomic tested bulls since 2015 and has genomic tested more than 500 pedigree heifers since, have already produced significant improvements both in terms of yield and fertility. As a result, average milk yields from the 350-cow herd have risen to 10,500litres on a twice daily milking regime and are continuing to rise. (See tables for heifer yield and fertility improvements at Walmsley Fold).

“How can you afford not to genomic test your heifers? You have to be ruthless with the data you have and do something with it. Invest in the information you have.

“In the US, genomics is the last thing they would drop when milk prices drop,” concluded Mr Eastham.

Milk yield

Perceptile group Average Average 1st GPTA lactation 305days

Milk (Kg) Milk (kg)

(n=174)

Top 25% 550 9885

51-75% 362 9163

26-50% 251 8714

Bottom 25% 97 8601

Difference top 25% and bottom 25% 453 1284

Fertility

Percentile group Average Average (days)

GPTA fertility index calving interval

(n=141)

76%-100% 8.4 363

51-75% 5.4 367

26-50% 3.2 379

0-25% -0.2 379