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    Breeding and Fertility Strategy at Harper Adams University Dairy Units 

    Introduction

    Breeding and fertility is a crucial component for any successful dairy herd, 30% - 50% of improved margins can be down to having a good, sound, robust breeding policy.  This page aims to highlight the strengths of the current herd whilst also highlight areas for improvement and changes to be made to fit in with the overall aims of the university going forward.

    Current Breeding Strategy

    Approximately six years ago the farm took the decision to move away from a mainly production-based strategy towards one where cows were bred with health and longevity in mind.  This meant cows produced were medium sized with good chest width, strong daughter fertility, lifespan and locomotion.  It is intended that these traits will increase the life of the cows in the herd, reduce the replacement rate and also reduce the environmental impact. Also enable the university to have a group of cows that can not only cope with the rigors of being a modern dairy cow but also cope with the addition of use for educational and research needs.

    Other Considerations

    When selecting bulls, the farm also tries to use bulls with the polled gene, this is quite difficult as the options out there are fairly limited but the farm uses at least one bull that carries the polled gene.  The main reason for this is the welfare implications of dis-budding.  At present the farm sedates, uses local anesthetic and pain relief but it is possible the animal could still suffer some pain and distress, so trying to breed animals where this procedure is not carried out has to be a positive for the herd.  Another consideration is selecting bulls with the precision dairy unit (robotic unit) specifically in mind.  Although this unit accounts for a small percentage of the overall herd at least one bull is selected to highlight the traits to breed successful robot cows even if some other traits don’t quite meet the necessary criteria.

    Points To Consider Going Forward

    When considering what breeding strategy to adopt going forward, we must start at the point of what dairy unit/units we will have in 5, 10, 15 years’ time.  If there is to be a fundamental shift in approach to the dairy units, therefore, requiring a different type of cow then breeding decisions need to be made around 8-10 years beforehand so understanding the long-term vision is crucial for the breeding plan. A plan is in place to create a small block calving herd within the bigger herd of  Montbelliard or Viking Red x Holstein, more information for this can be found on the ES farm productivity page.

    Another factor is data.  Information is critical when making any decision and breeding is no different, having a system that is straightforward so new entrant members of the team can use and record, what at the time may seem inconsequential (e.g. a calf had scour) data easiliy, as that data becomes very important when it comes to making breeding decisions for those animals.  A further point on information is genomic testing, this has become even more important with the prevalence of genomic bulls over the last few years (the lack of real-world data has impacted the reliability of data for their offspring).  When it is time to serve a maiden heifer, the genetic information on her has a reliability of around 18% if not tested, with genomic testing this figure increases to around 55%.  

    The final point to consider is are we producing a product the market wants and are we also producing it in a way the market wants.  It is important to understand what is driving the market but it is probably even more important to try and predict what will drive the market in the coming years, if we can understand and develop this then the university can help shape the future and also create some positive outcomes for both the university and the industry as a whole. 

    Beef On Dairy

    Beef on Dairy is playing a much greater role now than in previous years.  Five years ago, sexed dairy semen accounted for around 50% of Dairy bull semen sales, today this figure is around 90%.  This has meant a reduction in the number of dairy bull beef and an increase in beef crosses. The market is dominated by British Blue bulls with various schemes out there for Aberdeen Angus, Longhorn, Shorthorn, Wagyu etc. but they account for a small percentage of the overall market.  The policy currently on the dairy enterprises is all milking cows allocated to beef are served to an easy calving British Blue bull with Youngstock served to an Aberdeen Angus bull.  The main dairy also receives ten straws per month of a British Blue test bull with the transaction of collecting insemination and calving data.

    Going forward the farm will source all of the beef unit cattle from the dairy unit.  At present the dairy is supplying calves on request but ideally a more planned approach should be taken.  In this regard it is a blank canvas with opportunities to look at different breeds and also measure the impact of breeding decisions on both the cow and the calf.

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