Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Big strides in genomics

Bernard Eivers Chief executive National Cattle Breeding Centre

It is just 12 months since the launch of genomic selection as a tool in cattle breeding. Irish farmers have used bulls based on genomic data in spring 2009 and more than one third of all inseminations carried out in spring '09 were to sires whose proof was based on genomic data.

The first of these bulls have now got proofs based on the performance of their daughters and it would appear that, on average, they match their genomic proofs quite closely.


The rest of the world has followed Ireland and adopted this new technology for their breeding programmes.

Genomic development in Ireland has not stood still and over the past 12 months Ireland has expanded its "training population" (which is essential for accuracy in genomic selection) from 1,000 bulls to more than 5,000. This has resulted in higher reliabilities for the genomic proof of many bulls on this year's active sire list.

The National Cattle Breeding Centre (NCBC) has worked to develop the technology and during 2009, the NCBC has genotyped over 360 young bull calves. Most of these were born on Irish farms and using this genomic data NCBC has selected a panel of bulls for 2010. Despite the losses due to an outbreak of IBR at one of the units, NCBC has young bulls with genomic EBIs as high as €280 in their stud.

NCBC has also been busy working on semen processing at the centre at Enfield. The laboratory has received ISO accreditation for its processes and works to the highest standards. All semen is checked at the time of processing and prior to dispatch. The ultimate monitor of the semen quality is the performance in the field.

Using data captured by the call centre staff and the AI technicians in the field using their hand-held devices, NCBC has access to the results of thousands of inseminations to monitor the quality of semen it produces. To ensure continued production of the highest quality semen, NCBC are undertaking investments in equipment and training of €100,000 over the next two years.

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Female Advantage has been developed by NCBC in conjunction with 'Arex Life Sciences'. During 2009 a large-scale trial has been conducted in Ireland and to-date there are over 300 reported births where the gender of the calf is recorded.

Currently, the bias being generated is in excess of 57pc. The results of the trial, which is nearing its conclusion, are very encouraging and demonstrate the Female Advantage semen delivering a female bias without a reduction in fertility.

The 2010 breeding season is upon us and many farmers are sitting down to select bulls for their herds. The 2010 active sire list is now available -- the list ranks bulls on EBI. The EBI formula is regularly updated to reflect the likely market conditions going forward and to incorporate advances in our understanding of genetics. This year is no exception. The 2010 EBI formula has been adjusted to reflect the FAPRI-predicted milk price of €0.27/l which has had the effect of reducing the weighting of the production sub-index in the EBI formula.

The other major change in the EBI formula has been the introduction of the maintenance sub-index. This new sub-index has been added to take account of the cost of maintenance of body weight during the animal's productive life. This maintenance cost is offset by the carcass values, which is part of the beef sub-index. The overall effect will be to favour highly productive and fertile compact cows.


As we prepare for the breeding season farmers should get a few basics carried out now to help improve fertility. Fertility is influenced by many factors. These include the bull/semen, the cow, the farmer and the technician. All need to be working well to achieve the best results. The following are a few tips to getting started for 2010:

  • Condition score cows regularly and manage them to avoid a rapid loss in body condition post-calving;
  • Farmers should start to record all pre-breeding heats now to ensure cows are cycling;
  • Cows calved six weeks without a heat should be investigated;
  • A vasectomised bull is very helpful with heat detection;
  • DIY AI farmers should order semen, check equipment and consider a refresher DIY AI day course before they start the season;
  • Farmers concerned about a disease on the farm should consult their vet and consider a herd screen.

All the best for the 2010 season.

Irish Independent