Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Young bull usage in dairy herd up fourfold on 2009

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Demand quadrupled this year for semen from young bulls. The surge in demand was fuelled by the confidence farmers placed in the latest DNA technology that provides young bulls with 'genomic proofs'.

As a result, up to 40pc of all AI so far this year used genomically proven bulls. This compares to 5-10pc in previous years, according to the ICBF's Andrew Cromie.

And support for the latest in gene technology appears to be staying strong despite debate raging within the New Zealand dairy industry about the reliability of breeding data based on genomic information.

NZAEL, who is the equivalent of the ICBF in NZ, stated recently that it was "working urgently" to change the situation where the "breeding worth" of young bulls with genomic proofs was overestimated.

"Farmers should discount all young bull teams without progeny test daughters by 15-25 Breeding Worth units," the NZAEL stated in NZ's Dairy Exporter magazine.


Currently 50pc of a young bull's predicted breeding value is based on the genomic data sourced from DNA analysis. The rest of the breeding value is based on the parental breeding values or EBIs.

However, the ICBF is now planning to move to a system that will base the predicted EBIs for young bulls solely on their genomic data.

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"We considered working off the genomic information only from the start but decided to introduce it slowly since it was very new technology," said Mr Cromie. "There will always be improvements with new technology but I don't accept that the technology is not an improvement on what we used before."

He said that there was phenomenal uptake among Irish farmers of the technology, with 40pc of the AI used in Irish herds this year coming from genomically proven bulls.

"In New Zealand it was only 20-25pc, while in Holland it was closer to 20pc," said Mr Cromie.


"But it does pose challenges for our AI companies to keep up with demand since young bulls produce only a fraction of what three- or four-year old bulls can. It will require better management in terms of nutrition and diet of the young bulls that are being used for collection."

However, Ireland's biggest bull stud, NCBC, said it was confident of having enough semen to meet demand. They plan to take on a similar number of young bulls as last year, even though they will actually take fewer bulls into the test programme.

"We are trying to avoid sourcing bulls with Oman blood because of his total dominance of the black and white dairy breed in recent years," said NCBC's Robert Helen. "That has severely restricted the number of high EBI bulls for us to assess. I estimate that we'll test just over 200 bulls this year compared to approximately 280 last year," he said.

Irish Independent