Getting the most value out of Breeding Worth
For dairy farmer and bull breeder Steve Ireland, building a better Breeding Worth (BW), with genomics, means being able to make smarter, more profitable decisions.
He sees New Zealand Animal Evaluation Ltd (NZAEL)’s proposed introduction of a single BW as a beneficial move for the dairy sector and an opportunity for everyone to work together for the good of farmers.
“We need an independent and collaborated approach that will continue to deliver optimal genetic gain to NZ farmers. An independent evaluation system should also help create fair opportunity for breeders and competitors,” he says.
Based in Temuka, South Canterbury, Steve has always had an interest in breeding with a focus on improving production, fertility, capacity, udders and genetic diversity. From this he ended up expanding into bull breeding.
“Bull breeding was just a result of our breeding plan for replacements. We bred a top cow in 1996 and in 1999 her son was bought by LIC. We decided to flush that cow, and by chance she gave us an incredible number of offspring with a large number of bull calves purchased. That success was the catalyst that got us into flushing females and continue bull breeding.”
BW is important to Steve for breeding suitable, top-quality replacements. NZAEL’s tools also enable him to identify specific traits that are important for his own breeding objectives and be able to create the type of herd that he wants to farm.
“We utilise the NZAEL Bull Search tool to help select suitable sires. The advanced tool is useful for prioritising certain breeding values and traits, and it’s also useful for finding potentially suitable outcross and more genetically diverse sires.”
Steve sees the proposed introduction of one BW for NZ delivered by NZAEL as a way to create more opportunities for the New Zealand dairy sector, while making BW more accessible for Kiwi farmers.
One of the main issues he sees it addressing is the confusion around having a number of different BWs with different values.
“Having multiple BWs or animal rankings in NZ is confusing and unhelpful and is leading to some fragmentation of the AI industry. Herd owners, particularly bull breeders, need to be able to identify and add value to top bull calves by having an independent genomic test available. Farmers often also have genetically diverse bull calves who can fall under the radar of the main AI companies. Having an independent test could identify these bulls as being useful for breeding replacements.”
Steve is now using his experiences to help direct the future of NZAEL’s BW index through his involvement with its Farm Advisory Panel (FAP), a diverse group of farmers who help advise around the genetic side of NZAEL.
“The FAP connects farmers milking cows, who have the passion and knowledge of genetics and day-to-day farm and animal management, to the decision making process at board level. It is vital dairy farmers and herd and cow owners have input into our evaluation systems,” he says.