20 November 1998

WHY ITALY IS AN UDDER

COUNTRY…

WHEN it comes to dairy cow genetics, the Italians have something of an obsession with udders.

"About 40% of my final decision is influenced by the udder," confesses Gianni Baretta, who judged the Holstein Friesian classes at this years prestigious Cremona show. "First and foremost, Im looking for functionality – cows that will last. That means cows with good udder attachment and strong ligaments."

Udder depth is also important, as this is directly linked to longevity, he adds.

Not surprisingly, udder conformation is also a central feature of the Italian dairy breeding programme. "We are selecting for a production dairy cow, with as few milking problems as possible," says Francesco Brun, director of ANAFI, the countrys Holstein Friesian association.

Of course, milk output and quality are still the prime considerations, accounting for 80% of the countrys ILQM bull evaluation index. "But the other 20% is down to type, of which the udder traits are the main components," says Dr Brun. (See table)

ANAFI is also introducing milkability into the proofing system, with faster milking cows scoring extra points, in recognition of their benefit to the busy herdsman.

The ILQM system downplays the influence of butterfat. With the country now implementing milk quotas, to a degree, butterfat is no longer welcome because it uses up valuable litres. Protein, in contrast, is much sought after, with over 80% of Italian milk going for cheesemaking.

Unlike most other EU countries, cattle breeding in Italy still benefits from government support, reflecting the importance attached to producing high quality genetics. Some 70% of the cost of milk recording and classification comes from central funds.

Despite this, the AI centres – which are all private – have free rein when it comes to choosing bulls to put into the ANAFI testing scheme.

On average, about 500 young bulls a year are selected, derived from the top 1% of dams from the countrys 955,000 registered Holstein Friesians, and the top 1% of AI sires.

These young bulls, which must come from herds that are brucellosis, enzootic bovine leukosis and tuberculosis free, are held at the ANAFI genetic centre near Cremona for five months for health checks, including monthly tests for IBR.

Average rejections

On average, about 100 bulls are rejected, (and slaughtered), with the rest going back to the AI centres to enter progeny testing at one year old. Failure rate is high, however, with only 5% making it to become recognised AI bulls.

Milk recording and dairy cow classification are also an integral part of the Italian genetic improvement effort.

"All farmers in Italy who are on milk recording have to have their cows classified," explains Pia Zamboni, one of ANAFIs 22 classifiers. Each year about 210,000 first calvers are assessed on 14,000 farms, with the results sent back to ANAFI for analysis.

"Sometimes its a battle, because farmers are only really interested in milk recording," admits Dr Zamboni. But classification does help with identification of possible future bull dams, and also enables the classifier to advise the farmer on his breeding programme.

"We have information on all the farmers animals and know the genetic profile of his herd," says Dr Zamboni. "But, because we are independent, we have no commercial interest in selling any one line of semen. Our computer programme will simply come up with three recommendations to achieve a certain breeding objective."

Milk recording, meanwhile, is carried out by provincial breeders associations, who perform monthly tests on all registered farms. This data is collated centrally and then forwarded to ANAFI to combine with genetic information derived from the classifiers.

By combining these three elements – bull testing, classification and milk recording – the Italians have taken big steps forward in dairy cow improvement, says Giovanni Tagliaferri, director of the Cremona Breeders Association.

He is concerned by what he sees as the gradual erosion of government support for milk recording, though so far it has not dented the uptake of his associations services.

Generally he is optimistic for the future of Italian dairy genetics.

Whats happening in Italian dairy cow genetics?

FW European editor Philip Clarke went to find out.

Milk quality – 80%, of which:

&#8226 Protein 67%

&#8226 Yield 26%

&#8226 Butterfat 7%

Conformation – 20%, of which:

&#8226 Udder depth 25%

&#8226 Udder cleft 20%

&#8226 Fore udder 18%

&#8226 Rear udder height 16%

&#8226 Teat placement 16%

&#8226 Rear udder width 5%

Name PIN Type merit PLI

Olmo Prelude Tugolo 119 1.97 118

Aquila Mascot Dreamer 105 1.66 102

All. Nure M. Adam Goodtime 104 2.49 106

Carol Prelude Mtoto 103 2.96 111

Valbas Arpagone 101 2.68 108

Sabbiona Skywalker 101 2.11 105

Regista 99 1.19 101

Pirocco Aerostar Aerosol 98 2.03 90

Alce Mascot Derio 98 1.78 97

Pirocco Aerostar Donay 97 2.37 87

Top Italian bulls (UK figures)