Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Farmers right to be wary of Jersey option

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Everybody has always known that Jersey crossbred bull calves from the dairy herd were about as useful as ashtrays on motorbikes.

But it was the prospect of an extra €100 profitability per lactation that has tempted a number of dairy farmers to make the leap.

The outcross gives the resultant calves a shot of hybrid vigour, or increased fertility. They are also better suited to extended grazing because of their compactness and hard black hooves. And they produced higher milk solids.

All in all, a no-brainer -- except farmers weren't really buying into it.

Out of the 700,000 AI straws that go into our dairy cows annually, less than 5pc are Jersey. In fact Jersey inseminations actually dropped last year.

The biggest reservation that farmers had with an irreversible move to crossbreeding was the damage that such a move would inflict on the value of the resulting bull calf.

When the mart trade is bad, these calves often fail to attract even a bid. The most sensible thing to do was bring them to a knackery to be put down.

The worthlessness of the crossbred Jersey bull calf also had profound implications for the beef sector.

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With roughly 500,000 bull calves being produced by the dairy sector here annually, the prospect of a significant proportion of these being useless for fattening was one that no one found appetising.

But it seems a sea-change is underway among the researchers trying to establish the best way forward for our farm sector.

The catalysts are the huge advances in our national genetic database and the advent of commercially viable sexed semen.

The former means that Ireland has more information on the traits that affect the survivability of cows than almost any other country in the world.

So a bull with a proof based on Irish daughters is going to be a lot closer to what Irish farmers will want to be breeding from in the future.

Conversely, a foreign proof for a Jersey bull (since there isn't a big enough pool of purebred Jerseys in Ireland to choose from) is not going to be at the races.

Sexed semen will also have an impact by allowing dairy farmers to decide when they have used enough female-only semen to cover their cow replacement requirements.

Then they have the option of switching to a beef bull to produce stock for the beef herd.

The same dairy farmer will never have that choice if he is working off a Jersey cross, no matter how brilliant a beef bull he puts with the cows.

Suddenly the Jersey cross's future looks less promising. And farmers' reservations are proven right yet again.

Irish Independent