11 December 1998

High yields do not endanger herd wellbeing

By Allan Wright

THERE is no need for dairy farmers to sacrifice high milk yields because of the association with poor health and fertility, according to researcher Roel Veerkamp, who was closely involved in developing ITEM.

"It has become clear that selection solely for milk production reduces health and fertility. But there is a low correlation between the two which means there are plenty of high producing animals around that also have good health and good fertility," he told the British Grassland Society meeting in Peebles last week.

"The challenge is to identify these animals and select them in order to breed the next generation."

Mr Veerkamp, who used to work at SAC, Edinburgh, and is currently at the Lelystadt research centre in Holland, was critical of the Irish tendency to select middle-of-the-road production bulls as a way of improving fertility and health.

"That is not the answer. The way forward is to develop an index which includes a mix of economic traits including health, fertility, longevity, and mastitis resistance but not at the expense of yield," he said.

Robustness was the latest word being used to describe cows that could yield without succumbing to ailments. He thought condition score might prove an important selection area for that factor.

"Condition score is as heritable as milk yield but there is a strong negative correlation between them. Selection for yield will result in lower condition score. It might be within acceptable limits but it is important to investigate the long-term consequences for health and fertility and whether condition score, feed intake, and other measures of energy balance should be included in selection decisions," he said.

Mr Veerkamp insisted that return on investment was only secured when genetic selection was for economic performance. "Too many breeding values leave too much scope for semen salesmen to make any bull a good bull. Too much emphasis on one trait will reduce overall economic progress," he said.

The breeder of the future would be make best use of all selection tools available. Labour and land costs had risen far faster than milk price and increasing the amount of milk for each man or hectare would be of major importance for long-term economic survival. &#42

CONFERENCE QUOTES

&#8226 The major problem is still getting farmers to treat grass as a crop – Dai Hides, IGER, Aberystwyth.

&#8226 When it comes to knowing production costs, beef and sheep men are light years behind the dairy, pig and poultry sectors – Peter Cook, SAC.

&#8226 We are in the Indian summer of political interference in agriculture – Maitland Mackie, ice cream manufacturer and prospective politician.

&#8226 Within 10 to 20 years, pig and poultry production will largely have moved to Asia – Maitland Mackie.

&#8226 The withdrawal of most of the large nationals from the farm supply sector does not bode well for stability – Brian Pack, ANM Group chief executive.

&#8226 The collapse in world prices has resulted in the substitutes for grass as a feed dropping in price quite dramatically – Brian Pack.