8 August 1997

MDCs report predicts market of big boys…

Individual cattle breeders could become a relic of the past as breeding becomes dominated by a handful of major players, says a new report. Sue Rider reviews its recommendations and gauges industry reaction

BRITISH dairy farmers must put more emphasis on using high profit index bulls to increase genetic progress of the national herd.

In a report to the Milk Development Council, pig breeding expert Maurice Bichard said pursuit of traits other than milk, fat, and protein was diluting selection pressure for economic milk production.

He had been commissioned by the MDC to examine ways in which genetic progress could be optimised over the next five to 10 years and review the part genetic evaluation should play.

Speaking at the launch of the report in London last week, Dr Bichard said the genetic level of the British dairy herd continued to lag behind that of its competitors in Europe and North America.

"Current progress is good, but we could close the gap faster if milk producers concentrated even more on profit related traits."

He forecast the decline of the individual pedigree breeders role. Genetic progress would be driven by the major breeding organisations; to accelerate improvement in this country milk producers had, therefore, to focus on using semen from programmes at the highest genetic level and making fastest annual progress.

"The rate of improvement in milk producers herds depends directly on the rate of improvement in AI studs," he said.

For this reason, the Animal Data Centre must redirect its efforts into providing AI organisations with genetic information rather than individual breeders.

"Too much of its time is spent giving individual cow keepers genetic information for cows," said Dr Bichard. "This is a relic of the past when a certain segment of the industry was producing bulls it was able to sell to AI studs.

"But cattle breeding decisions are now being taken by the AI studs," said Dr Bichard, who saw the cattle breeding industry developing on the lines of the pig and poultry industry with six to 12 global companies leading the field. "The more help we can give them to identify cows and bulls the better."

This was just one of 24 recommendations listed by Dr Bichard in his 90-page report. He also suggested ADC should:

&#8226 Remain at Chippenham, Wilts but continue to protect its independence from commercial interests.

&#8226 Be run by a new management committee with a four-member technical committee set up to advise the head of the ADC.

&#8226 Devote more resources to examining the problems involved in producing international proofs, working with the Interbull Centre and other foreign specialists.

As for the MDC, Dr Bichard suggested it research the value of producing customised indices for use on farms. It must also devise – and probably fund – a strategy for publication and distribution of information on genetic improvement to all milk producers.

There was a recommendation for AI organisations, too. They should collectively ensure that a current list of active AI bulls is available as a public document.

As for the future, Dr Bichard, questioned whether the industry would need to produce independent evaluations as more programmes would be doing internal evaluations of their own young bulls. "Once this is established, milk producers will have to ask how much value they are getting from having their own independent analysis of the same bulls and cows," said Dr Bichard. "Perhaps ADC and MDC will have to accept like all godparents that the time will soon come to stop giving the industry what it thinks it needs."

Dr Maurice Bichard… the cattle breeding industry will develop along the lines of the pig industry – with a handful of companies leading the field.

REPORT HIGHLIGHTS

&#8226 Breeders: Emphasis on using top bulls from top AI studs.

&#8226 ADC: Help AI organisationsas priority and not individual breeders.

&#8226 AI companies to ensure up-to-date list of active AI bulls.

&#8226 MDC to facilitate transfer of genetic information to all milk producers.