2 June 1995

USING BRITISH BULLS COULD CUT THE BILLS

HFS figures suggest there are about 4000 black-and-white bulls on UK farms. Many will be used as sweeper bulls, but a minority are being retained for potential AI use. Given the choice and quality of imported bulls, what chance do breeder-owned, home-bred bulls stand of obtaining a widespread proof?

Judie Allen reports

CRITICS suggest the efforts individual breeders or breeder syndicates to prove bulls are diluting the effect of much larger progeny testing schemes.

But Lancashire breeder John Loftus is in favour of individuals testing bulls because imported semen is so expensive.

"We pay the highest prices for imported semen in Europe," he says. "The problem is that there is no home competition to force down prices. Using more UK-bred and proven bulls would improve not only UK farmers balance of payments, but also that of the countrys."

He would be in favour of a national progeny testing scheme provided it was owned by and its profits distributed between breeders. "It would give us the chance to breed bulls to our own criteria," he says. "Weve been importing Dutch and US bulls bred to different criteria for too long. We need cows to last longer in this country."

Mr Loftus, who owns the Weeton herd, tests four or five bulls each year with different breeders – and claims success. He has proven bulls such as Oakridge Gallant, Weeton Board Chairman and Meadolake Rorae Matt. Although these bulls were imported as youngsters, those he proves now are mostly imported as embryos or bred in the UK from imported bull mothers.

He claims the reputation of his scheme for producing bulls with reliable and consistent performance ensures no difficulties distributing the semen. Indeed about 50 farmers use his test bull semen regularly. They pay £80 a year and receive five straws from each of the four bulls. Mr Loftus offers to pay for registration of the heifer calves. Once daughters have completed their first lactation and the bull has a proof, farmers can buy semen from any bull in quantities up to three times the number of cows in their herd. They pay £4 a dose. Bulls which make the grade are then leased to AI companies.

Mr Loftus reckons it costs him around £7000 to prove a bull, discounting the share bought by the joint-owner. "We cant afford to pay £15,000 to keep a bull in a lay-off unit for five years, but when kept on farms, as these bulls are, they run a greater risk of disease and injury."

He believes breeder clubs could do more to promote progeny testing. "Some have £70,000 or £80,000 in the bank. What do they do? Invest it in building societies. Since they are registered charities they cant give it back to breeders directly, but they could return it by investing in the breed through progeny testing."