Preliminary data provides a boost for sexed semen technology
Published 15/07/2015 | 02:30
Early results from sexed semen usage on Irish farms this spring suggest that the technology continues to improve.
The scanning results from over 3,000 cows inseminated this spring with seven bulls that were distributed by the National Cattle Breeding Centre (NCBC) show that there was little or no difference between the conception rates between the sexed and non-sexed semen from the same bulls.
In fact, the average conception rate across the seven bulls for sexed semen was 66pc, compared to 64pc for conventional semen.
One of the bulls had a sexed semen conception rate of 79pc across nearly 250 animals.
However, NCBC CEO Bernard Eivers cautioned on reading too much into the data since it had not been screened to remove the impact of many factors that could skew the outcomes.
"For example, it's quite likely that there were more heifers in the group that the sexed semen was used on, which could increase the conception rates in that group," he said.
Mr Eivers did admit though that he was happily surprised by the results.
"They do show the promise of the technology but farmers are still very wary, and how can you blame them? We've spent the last 15 years stressing the importance of fertility and conception rates, so farmers are understandably cool about a new technology that has only been able to offer 85pc of the conventional conception rate up to this point," he said.
Sexing Technologies, the company that owns the technology for separating male and female sperm, has consolidated its Irish and UK operations to a single site in England after completing a 15,000 cow trial here in 2013.
As a result, NCBC sent five bulls for semen collection and processing to the UK this year. Due to the strict disease protocols that were enforced throughout the process, these bulls have been able to return to stud here for further semen collection.
However, some farmers have blamed the longer supply chain for lower conception rates this year. Mullinahone dairy farmer Jim White was one of the first farmers in the country to use sexed semen on his cows, and is now in his third year of using the technology.
His conception rate was 10pc lower this year, despite using the sexed semen on similar aged and genetic merit cows.
"My conception rates were 10pc lower on the sexed semen to 50pc this year, whereas I was at 60pc over the last two years," said Mr White.
However, despite the lower success rate and increasing value of his bull calves, the Tipperary farmer said that he would continue using the technology.
"I sold my 12-week-old Friesian bull calves for about €100 extra this year, at €450, which was great money. So there's no real incentive there to be using the sexed semen to get more heifer calves from the cows.
"But if you can get a blast of heifer calves from your heifers in the first three weeks of calving, they're away to a great head start - you can't beat that."
While sexed semen is not seen as a viable option for intensive grazers, farmers who are keen on utilising the option are being advised to target heifers.
"That's the best way to justify the €25-27 premium per straw that sexed semen is costing at the moment," said Mr Eivers.