GENETIC progress has almost doubled in UK Holstein Friesians in the past five years compared with the last 10, but must continue to improve if the country is to catch up with its competitors.
Rate of progress reflects the increasing influence of imported semen and embryos in the Holstein Friesian dairy herd, according to geneticists at the Animal Data Centre, Chippenham, Wilts.
Gordon Swanson and Carin Lindberg analysed improvements due to a combination of breeding and management in the UK dairy herd over the last 20, 10, and five-year periods.
While their analysis confirms that the UK dairy population now has the same rate of genetic progress – at 2% a year – as that in Holland, they warned that the Dutch dairy herd is at a higher genetic level – about £40 PIN higher than that in the UK. Here cows are still lagging behind their Dutch equivalents by about four years, and the US by five years.
"At last were progressing at the same rate as the Dutch and US, but we must push on faster than them to catch up," said Mr Swanson.
"New bulls coming through are now good enough to allow us to improve on this 2% progress – in the last two years young bulls have been increasing by £14/15 PIN a year, so why cant we build that 15 points PIN increase into our cows by using the very best bulls?
"There is a clear need to breed replacement cows in the UK from proven sires in the top 1% of the population. In Holland, 50% of the cows born in each year are progeny of the 10 most highly used sires. Its this concentration of use which results in a sustained and fast rate of progress."
Over the last five years, progress through breeding alone in the UK has accounted for 28% to 65% of overall improvement, depending on breed, says Mr Swanson.
For cows, annual progress increased to 2.2% for Holstein Friesians, 1.9% for Jersey, 1% for Ayrshire, 0.8% for Guernsey and 0.7% for Shorthorn and Jersey Island. Guernsey Island showed a small decline to 0.7% a year. Rate of progress for bulls was Holstein Friesian at 2% followed by Guernsey at 0.8% and Jersey at 0.5% a year.
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