Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Sexed semen revolution to boost Irish dairy herd

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Irish dairy farmers are about to experience a dairy breeding revolution that has seen the US dairy herd go from an extreme shortage of dairy heifers to a situation where the bottom 25pc are culled in less than a decade.

Sexed semen and genomics have revolutionised the American dairy industry and have the potential to generate more profit for Irish farmers than the €600m already delivered by the EBI, the Teagasc National Dairy Conference heard on Wednesday.

Speaking to more than 300 farmers in the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, US fertility expert Mat Lucy said gender-selected semen "vastly exceeded our expectations, even though it was thought to be too expensive".

"Ten years ago, we had such an extreme shortage of Holstein heifers that any animals that walked into a sale barn with four teats sold for $2,500, no questions asked," Mr Lucy explained. "Today, we have such an excess of heifers that farmers take a hair sample for genomics to decide how good each heifer calf is and they get rid of the bottom 25pc."

The US dairy fertility specialist said the next great revolution for the US was already under way, with milk testing of cows to determine their oestrus cycle and pregnancy.

"There are 9m cows in the US and 4m of those are already being milk recorded. Using technology like the Indexx milk pregnancy testing and automated milk progesterone testing to determine when to breed each cow will be the future," he predicted. "These systems need no drugs, no hormones, no observation of oestrus behaviour – they are the future of dairy reproduction."

He added that genomic testing would ensure that cows of the future would have "astronomically high" fertility. without productivity loss.

However he warned that both the US and Ireland needed to be careful about how they defined 'high fertility', making sure breeding valuations such as the EBI in Ireland and the Lifetime Net Merit in the US rewarded cows with functional reproductive systems that suited the dairy industry in each country.

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Irish Independent