Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Cashing in on the AI collection of semen

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Last year, a Limerick farming family took the plunge and put their Hereford bull through the AI semen collection process. Here, we find out what's involved in going it alone with your own bull.

"We weren't just trying to get a bull into AI, we were taking on the system," says pedigree cattle breeder Marian Collins.

However, almost as soon as the words fall from her mouth, she is wondering whether she could be offending anybody.

Along with her brother John and sister Noreen, the Collins's eat, sleep and drink pedigree Holsteins, Jerseys and Herefords. Playing politics isn't their style.

"I'm at my happiest when I'm down in the milking parlour," says Marian, who shares milking the 70-strong herd with her brother.

"I call it the assembly line. That's where I see the fruits of our labours."

So what's a dairy farmer doing trying to market semen from a pedigree beef bull called Turlough Graceful?

"We bought two heifers from a Kerry farmer back in 1974 -- a Jersey and a Hereford," says Marian.

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When it comes to her animals, every detail, including the dates they were bought, sold, calved or died are all stored in her memory.

"They cost a small fortune -- £900 each. We had to empty the bank account to buy them," recalls Marian. "But the old saying that the day you buy is the day you sell holds true for us."

All of their 10 VG or excellent-scored Jerseys are descendants of that Jersey heifer, while the Hereford's great grandson has made it into the Eurogene AI catalogue.

"The day he was born in 2006, he stood up and took your eye," says Marian in reference to the RSL son.

"He never did that well in the show ring because he was May-born and was always up against animals that were 10 months older than him. But he had good milk and fertility and came from a line of mothers that all lived well into their teens.


"He always looked well, had a beautiful head, good bone, stood smartly and was as placid as could be.

"People often asked us if we'd ever consider putting him into AI. We eventually got somebody out from Munster AI last year but they said they thought he was too old to train in at an AI centre. To be honest, that really got our blood up."

The Collins's were convinced they had a bull that people would buy semen from but they spent the next number of months trying to figure out how they could progress their ambitions.

"Most AI companies just weren't interested in helping, until Joe Kirwin, from Eurogene, stepped into the yard," says Marian. "He took one look at the bull and asked us how we'd like to go about getting semen from him."

It was music to the Collins's ears and they set about putting their bull through seven separate disease tests.

"We had to keep him in isolation here on the home farm for a month while the test results were coming in. We thought we had everything in order, when at the last minute we noticed he only had one tag. That was another scramble to get a replacement tag before the test results went over 28 days," says Marian.

Despite this, Graceful still had to be quarantined for a month after he arrived in the semen collection centre in Ballycraigy, Co Antrim. By this stage there was no turning back for the Collins's since with every passing month that their bull spent in Eurogene's facilities in the North, they were another €2,000 down.

At least Graceful produced the goods during his stay, with more than 5,000 doses collected over a four-month period.

"I'd say it probably cost us over €40,000 to get that bull through the whole semen collection process and into a catalogue," says Marion.

Was it worth it?

"Absolutely. If you believe in what you have, yes, definitely," she says, before cautioning that it wasn't going to make millionaires out of them.

The fact that Graceful is in AI catalogues both here and in Britain since the beginning of the summer, as well as being available across Europe, will certainly help the Collins's recoup some of their investment.

But as Marian points out, there is really only a two-year window to get most of the 5,000 doses sold before farmers become concerned with inbreeding in subsequent generations.

This was part of the reason the Collins's advertised their bull in the Hereford Society's annual, and Marian has been delighted with the response.

"I don't mind all the calls I get," she says. "Sure, don't I love talking about him!"

Turlough Greaceful (TGF) retails at €14/straw from Eurogene.

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