19 December 1997

Finnish invite might boost UK Ayrshires

By Jeremy Hunt

AYRSHIRE cattle breeders in the UK will be the first to benefit from improved genetics, including trait selection indices for mastitis and cow fertility, if they accept an invitation to join Finlands ASMO breeding programme.

Although ASMO, The Finnish Animal Breeding Association, is keen to promote Finnish genetics based on its population of 280,000 Ayrshires, the importation of UK-bred embryos is considered an important part of the development.

Jarmo Juga, head of research and development at ASMO, met members of the Ayrshire Cattle Society recently in the first stage of Finlands aim to develop closer co-operation with other Ayrshire populations.

"It is many years since Finland imported any UK Ayrshire genetics. We will make every effort to see if UK embryos can meet all the necessary animal health regulations, but we are not looking for a predominance of red-and-white Holstein in the breeding," says Dr Juga.

ASMO, a farmer-run co-op with 20,000 members, has run a MOET scheme since 1990. Ayrshire cattle account for 80% of Finlands dairy herd. National herd average is 7000kg at 3.2% protein and 4.3% fat.

"Health and fertility have been an important selection criteria in Finnish dairy cattle breeding for almost 20 years," said Dr Juga. "All veterinary treatments of cows in the breeding programme are logged into a national database. The resulting health indices are used in our calculations of breeding values."

ASMO believes the high economic value of health traits cannot be underestimated. "There is no point in striving for high production only to have to cull 10,000kg cows through mastitis or infertility." National somatic cell count in Finnish herds is now below 100,000.

The ASMO breeding programme calculates an overall index for bulls as well as cows. The traits included in the total merit index for bulls are: Protein production, protein content, female fertility, udder health and udder conformation.

The female fertility index is based on days from calving to conception and medical treatments for fertility disorders. Udder health data is based on somatic cell counts and treatments for mastitis.

Selection, according to the total merit index, is giving a 60kg a year yield improvement. "Udder health is improving and female fertility does not decline as would be the case without attention to the negative genetic correlation between productivity and fertility." &#42

Daughter of Finnish Ayrshire bull Pirkkulan Eemil, one of three such sires available in the UK for the first time in 25 years, according to supplier Peeblesshire-based Advanced Breeders. According to the companys John King, the top five available Ayrshires in Finland have average PIN values £35 higher than Britains top five. "The advantage in yield can be attributed to a comprehensive progeny testing scheme where about 150 young bulls are tested each year," says Mr King. He suggests the Finnish Ayrshire population represents a valuable resource that should avoid the need to resort to the quick fix offered by red-and-white Holstein cattle.