March 2017 Gold Cup Comment: Herd genetics under spotlight

This month 2016 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Simon Bugler from Dorset highlights the performance of sires used on the herd and reflects on lessons learnt from a trip to the US.

I have previously mentioned how pleased I have been with our in-calf heifers by bulls like Mogul, Saloon, Bookem and Supersire and so I was optimistic as the first heifers faced their first classification.

The overall results were very pleasing with 10 new Excellent, 10 repeat Excellent, 42 VG and 34 VG heifers.  The Saloon daughters classified well with five VG heifers and the highest score a VG 88 two year old.  The first two Bookem’s scored VG and our highest Supersire made 87 points with an average of 84 points for four daughters.

The best progeny group would have to be the Moguls.  We scored 11 heifers and they averaged VG 85 points.  That’s not the whole story—the daughters milk too!  Currently the 11 heifers that scored VG are averaging 39.6kg at 94 DIM.  When you look at Mogul’s proof an area to be guarded is SCC so while I’ve been really pleased with all other aspects of the bull, I thought I would check the SCC.  This was 22 so all round I’m even more optimistic about the Moguls that will be calving over the next 18 months.

I used Mogul at the end of his genomic era but have to question where genetics are taking us.  From my own experience, I certainly have confidence in the genomic proofs delivering more accuracy.  However, with genomics accelerating to the point where bulls are sired by a generation or two of bulls without milking daughters, it is difficult to predict what the success levels will be.

I’m yet to calve daughters of any such bulls so I suppose only time will tell whether or not I can build the same level of confidence in this method.  The numbers generated by geneticists would certainly lead us to believe there are high levels of genetic gains to be achieved.

I have used six or seven Mogul sons all with nice daughters on the ground.  They are of course the next generation of genetics but will they really excel beyond the quality of their fathers’ daughters?  I hope so, but at the moment they have a tough act to follow.

Simon has used a mating programme to assess inbreeding in his herd.

Simon has used a mating programme to assess inbreeding in his herd.

Inbreeding issues
I currently find it difficult to find bulls without Bookem, Supersire or Mogul in the pedigree.  I have always bred my cows from my own knowledge of pedigrees but have recently conceded to try a mating programme.  This is primarily to avoid inbreeding.  Due to the speed of genomics, this is creating sire stacks of bulls that I have never heard of.  When we put the whole herd through the programme, I was pleased to see there were not many inbreeding issues.

Ironically the highest inbreeding was at 16% which happened to be my highest scoring cow at classification.  At 94 points, Shottle Rebecca is carrying her 8th calf, and is projected to 13,430kg in her 8th lactation, aged just eight years and 10 months.  So while I make management decisions in the opposite direction, what I could actually do with is a cloned group of Shottle Rebecca’s.  Confused? Yes, so am I!

Washington State visit
One of the highlights of this month was a ten-day trip to Washington State with World Wide Sires to their Global Training Centre.  I have wanted to visit the US for a long time to learn more about how their systems may help us take our own business forward.

It proved to be a really well structured trip.  We spent time getting stuck into on-farm repro work, fresh cow observations, looking at maternity units and calf/heifer rearing facilities.  This was all done on farms with between 5,000 and 8,000 cows.  With this number of cows, we could get a close insight into the necessity for strict protocols being maintained to high standards, with monitoring and checks in place so the highest levels of herd health could be achieved.

This is the first step before the main focus and drive, which is reproduction.  Most of the herds we visited were all achieving preg rates of around 25% to 26%, which was exceptional given the number of cows and is a testament to the high standards of farm procedures.  There are lots of ideas I will take from the trip, but in particular I will be focusing on:

  • Transition management, calving protocols and colostrums management
  • Fresh cow checks
  • Reproduction protocols
  • Vaccination programmes and timings

We already have procedures in place for most of these areas but I now feel I need to revisit some of our targets.

The most impressive dairy for me was Colombia River Dairy with 36,000 Jerseys in freestalls milked twice daily through five eighty-point rotaries.  I liked their approach to animal welfare and head on approach to the public perception of what happens in a large dairy like this.  They actually welcome independent farm assessments (from groups similar to the RSPCA) of their farm practices at all levels on a regular basis and get routine feedback.

Another feather in their cap was the nil use of antibiotics on the dairy.  This is especially relevant to us in the UK, as antibiotics used in farming become ever increasingly mentioned.  In fact, while on the trip we were given notification that our milk contract would no longer permit the purchase of 3rd and 4th generation Cephalosporins and Fluroquinolones.  So for us that means, Cevaxcel, Cobactan, and Cephaguard.  This was not surprising, it’s been on the cards for some time and is actually a good thing.  I think it is widely accepted that our management has got to continue to improve to minimise the need for medical intervention.

The problem still lies with the milk price though.  While we are being directed to use less antibiotics and we may ultimately end up with nil antibiotics, this should really be something that milk processors and supermarkets recognise as a premium price product, not something else we do for less.

Reprinted from the March 2017 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website.