1 September 2000


MEMBERSHIP of a breeding club reduces overall semen costs and allows early access to the best proven bulls for one Staffs herd. Although it means using young, unproven bulls, this is less risky than it used to be.

That is the view of David and Jackie Williams who run a 215-cow Holstein Friesian herd at Rooks Nest Farm, near Stafford. "Being a member of the Genus Breeders Club means we are the first to hear about proven sires before they are generally released. Young, unproven bulls also seem to be better selected than a few years ago when you could instantly spot heifers sired by them," says Mrs Williams.

Rooks Nest Farm comprises 148ha (370 acres) of owned and rented land with 34ha (85 acres) of wheat, 10ha (25 acres) of maize and the remainder down to grass. The herd used to mainly calve from March through to June but now calving spread tends to be later to take advantage of seasonality payments available from September to November.

Milk is supplied to Co-op Dairies on a liquid contract, attracting a current price of 17.2p/litre. "It must contain a minimum of 3.7% fat and 3% protein which means we are not chasing fat and protein when choosing bulls. Lower fat bulls are selected as our fat currently runs at 4.1% and fat accounts for 30,000-40,000 litres of our 1.5m litres of quota, but we dont want to depress it too much," explains Mr Williams.

Herd average yield has risen from 6900 to 7600 litres in the past 12 months and is expected to exceed 8000 litres in the next 12 months, he says. "This is partly due to better genetics but we have also increased feed from one to 1.5/t a cow to help yield."

Cows are fed a diet of whole-crop wheat, grass and maize silage in addition to a 21% protein concentrate which costs £115/t. Turnout is in late March with housing in mid November, but cows have access to undercover feed troughs throughout summer.

Apart from yield and solids, other breeding goals include longevity and type traits. "We look for a bull that will leave daughters with the capacity for high yields but not too large, so they will fit into existing cubicles. We want animals with good feet and udders which are able to last for at least four or five lactations," says Mr Williams.

"And we dont want animals with too high a milking speed as they tend to have weaker teat sphincters and lose milk before they get to the parlour," adds Mrs Williams.

Membership of the Genus Breeders Club allows these goals to be met without prohibitive semen costs, he says. "We use about 60 straws of young sire semen each year which, taking account of conception rates and bull calves, leaves us with 15 to 20 heifers. Serving more than 50% of the herd with young sire semen would be too risky."

Having used young sire semen for the last 12 years, he believes it should be compulsory for all herds for the benefit of genetic improvement of the national herd.

Young sire semen costs just £4/straw and members must use a minimum of 20 doses a year and calve their heifers at no older than two and a half years to qualify for discounts on proven bulls, according to Genus breeding programme manager Mark Smith.

"Using young sires is lower risk these days because use of the MOET nucleus herd allows more accurate initial selection of bulls. When distributing young bull semen, we take individual breeders personal goals into account," says Mr Smith.

Recent proven bulls used on the Williamss farm include Ricecrest Brett, Painley Knighthood, Moet Flirt Freeman and Genus Brooklyn.

"We get at least a 30% discount on proven bull semen through being in the breeders club. We might get an £18 bull for £12, a season earlier than non-members," says Mrs Williams.

AI is carried out by a technician rather than DIY to save time, says Mr Williams. "Service costs have fallen from double figures a few years ago to about £7/cow."

Average straws/conception works out at 1.5 with a conception to first service rate of 60% for the herd. &#42

As well as offering early access top sires at discounted prices, membership of the Genus Breeders Club benefits the national herd, believes David Williams.

Jackie Williams says it is less easy to spot heifers from young, unproven sires than it once used to be.


&#8226 Now higher quality.

&#8226 Semen costs £4/straw.

&#8226 Discount of 30% on proven bulls.

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