16 June 1995

Cogent scheme offers UK a big genetic fillip

By Sue Rider

THE UK dairy industry could once again become a world force in dairy genetics if a national progeny test scheme launched last week lives up to early expectations.

The long-awaited initiative comes from Cheshire-based Grosvenor Farms with the Duke of Westminster rumoured to be investing at least £10m over the next five years in the company.

Known as Cogent it promises UK dairy farmers benefits that those in Europe and the US take for granted: Access to top home-proven genetics at competitive prices.

Grosvenor Farms and Cogent managing director Tim Heywood explains: "Without a co-ordinated breeding programme, the UK has fallen behind in the genetic race.

"While we rely on expensive overseas semen we will never catch up. Genetic progress depends on a national bull proving programme with bulls owned and tested in the UK to make top genetics more affordable."

But he admits to succeed, Cogent must attract widespread producer support.

Farmers are being asked for £25 a month to join the scheme. In return they receive 40 straws a year of semen from Cogent-owned young bulls. Further young sire semen is available priced £5/dose.

The reward is free daughter registration and classification and a 50% discount on the market value of proven semen.

Central to Cogents success will be commitment by participating farmers to use test semen on at least 90% of their milking heifers. This policy will be essential to meet twin targets of speed and reliability.

Genetic programme manager Drew Sloan: "Currently young bull semen tends to be used selectively on the bottom end of the herd," he says. "Use on milking heifers will eliminate that selection and improve reliability.

"Cogent bull proofs will be based on the performance of 120 daughters in at least 100 herds to secure a minimum reliability of 85% in less than four years for fast genetic gain. With existing UK progeny testing schemes semen can sit in the flask for six to nine months before it is used."

Cogent aims to use 1000 straws of each test bull within a month with an average of five straws a bull used on any one farm. The typical 100-cow herd running a 25% replacement rate would require 40 straws of young bull semen a year. That would be supplied from eight different bulls to leave the farm an average of one heifer calf per young sire.

Semen will be available from October delivered through a semen distribution network. Non-members will be able buy proven semen but at market value through existing AI companies. Cogent has no plans to become an AI company.