4 August 1995


WHATS the point of feeding a cow for nine months when she then produces a bull calf which is only worth $2 (£1.25)? That is the question posed by Bill Ahlem, who milks 850 Jerseys near Hilmar in California?

So Mr Ahlem invested £62,500 in an on-farm lab to sex embryos. As a result heifer calf rate increased from 32% to 50% in the four months the facilities have been available.

Mr Ahlem aims to increase herd size to 1250 head within two years so he also splits heifer embryos. So far he has had 100% success. Now the technique is perfected he is ready to go commercial.

"The risk, compared to routine embryo transfer, is a 10% decrease in pregnancy rate," says Dr Bryan Halteman, the vet who carries out the embryo transfer work. "But the sexing technique is highly accurate and when done properly accuracy greater than 95% should be expected."

The top 10% of the Ahlem Jerseys have been flushed for the past two years, averaging six to nine embryos a flush. Mr Ahlem waits until cows are 65 days in milk before embarking on the programme. Cows within the group must be scored excellent and have two or three high scoring cows in their maternal line.

Neighbours cows are used as recipients. When there is a hitch in proceedings embryos are frozen.

On paper a guaranteed female pregnancy will cost £250-312 and an embryo transfer pregnancy £63. "On average a Jersey calf is worth £94, a top pedigree animal £190 to £250, minimum, and the same animal in early lactations £540. We are therefore working with a winning machine," says Mr Ahlem.

With the Jerseys popularity on the rise in California, Mr Ahlem will not only benefit from selling superior surplus heifers in the near future, but also heifer embryos to those producers who are not planning to use his facilities.