22 December 2000

Flout genetics at your peril, dairy men told

DAIRY producers must not neglect genetics and breeding during the current crisis, warns dairy researcher Mike Coffey of SAC, Edinburgh.

"Todays breeding decisions may impact on your herd for the next 10 years. If you choose a bull thats no good, you wont be able to sell all his daughters and throw away their milk; you will have to live with it."

While the wrong breeding decisions can be costly, he adds that the right ones can be extremely positive.

"Dairy farmers are aware of the value of genetic progress, because it is responsible for 60% of the improvement in milk yield over the last five years."

Re-stating the need for funding to create customised selection indexes for the dairy herd – the MDC opted against a five year study to create a fertility index this year – Mr Coffey reckons he still has a good case.

There are good reasons to customise indexes to suit herd circumstances, particularly in the current harsh economic climate, he adds. "The emphasis is now less on simply increasing yields because the value of milk is lower and farmers are more concerned with reducing costs."

Despite admitting that the speed of genetic change can be swamped by changing economic and environmental events, Mr Coffey says that many dairy farmers were kept in business by making genetic selections for higher yields over the last few years.

Taking lifespan traits, such as lameness, mastitis resistance and fertility, together may not give a particular farm enough breeding precision.

In this farms situation it may be that mastitis resistance, and not fertility or lameness is the more valuable trait. This means putting more emphasis on a particular trait for a specific reason, such as high welfare status.

For that farm, the book value for mastitis resistance of 50p/cow is not enough and it could be more like £5/cow, says Mr Coffey. Re-ranking national bulls with these economic weights would allow a farmer to pick the best bull for his herd.

A further benefit of enabling farmers to customise their own herds indexes is that it may increase the uptake of selection indexes by boosting confidence in their application.

"This will become more important as a wider range of indexes become available," he says. &#42