Computerised mating programs ease farmers workload

Increasing pressure on labour resources is seeing more farmers relying on computerised mating program. Bruce Jobson reports

Large-scale dairy producers continue to face pressure on time and farm labour in the ever increasing cycle of herd expansion and resource limitations. Farmers and herd managers now require a myriad of skills and one tool proving its worth is computerised mating program.

The rise in popularity of mating programs is a direct result of the challenges encountered by thousands of dairy farmers world-wide. More cows, continued expansion, pressure on labour resources, less time and a multitude of sires available from the four corners of the earth are some of the reasons many have resorted to using a computerised mating program.

And the increasing demand is something seen by World Wide Sire’s Rob Braithwaite, who says demand for the service has increased substantially over the past three years. “Demand for the service has increased with farmers benefiting by having a range of mating options delivered based upon their own specific requirements,” he says.

The hand-held computer mating program has revolutionised large herd sire selection and has eased pressure for many. The traditional image of the cow enthusiast spending hours studying pedigrees and considering informed mating decisions has been replaced by a professional evaluator service delivering numerous options at the press of a button.

The “art of breeding” still remains in many pedigree herds, albeit, numerically small scale operations. However, large 300+ cow units increasingly rely on systems that control mating decisions, reduce levels of inbreeding, manage semen inventory and forward purchase, which alleviates pressure and reduces time constraints on staff.

One farmer, who is convinced by the benefits of using a mating program is Hugh Neilson, East Kilbride. He operates a 500 cow unit at Auld Farm yielding more than 10,000kg and says using a mating program has transformed the way they select sires.

“Using a mating program means we now achieve a balance of production and type and breeding decisions are based on corrective mating of the identified traits,” says Mr Neilson. Previously, we would select the “hot” new sire of the day and mate accordingly.

“I’m delighted with the development of the herd especially the uniformity of the cattle and I’m convinced the cows will live longer, are trouble-free and the herd will be more profitable in the long run,” he says.

Mating programs are specifically designed to suit UK systems and available data is incorporated on the same scale as the Holstein UK type traits, says Alta-Genetic’s George Collins. “UK production figures are also included within the mating and our program is independent and includes bulls from other companies as well as monitoring genetic recessives,” he says.

Dave Martin who runs a 200 cow pedigree Holstein herd at Lords Plain Farm, Levens, Kendal, has been using a computerised mating program for the past eight years. He says the mating service forms a valuable part of the family business, which has limited labour resource.

“The evaluator arrives on farm two or three times a year and we’re provided with a list of matings for each individual animal. I couldn’t identify all the traits involved to take decisions based upon 17 type traits as well as the production traits,” says Mr Martin.

“We’re seeking to avoid increasing levels of inbreeding and avoid genetic recessives and the computer programme saves hours of time and deliberation. The herd is now in its second and third generation of animals bred through the system and we’ve noted across the board improvements on conformation as well as production,” he says.

Mr Martin aims to breed animals able to sustain high production over numerous lactations and seeks to maintain a balance of production and type traits within the mating decisions. “The herd currently averages 10,400kg at 4.01% fat and I want to breed cows that last at least three lactations. The mating program is now an essential business partner within our herd selection.”