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Fertility research seeks biological breakthrough

Fertility research seeks biological breakthrough

A new seven-year research study is underway to deliver dairy cows that are genetically more fertile.

If successful, the study could deliver an estimated $500 million national increase in on-farm profit each year.

The research study also aims to deliver new management tools to help farmers take advantage of the better genetic makeup.

DairyNZ senior scientist and project leader Dr Chris Burke says the study requires a purpose-built herd of 700 holstein-friesian heifer calves with low and high fertility attributes, created from carefully-selected contract matings in spring 2014.

“More than 2800 contract matings will be required and we need the support of dairy farmers to ensure that we are able to achieve the required number of animals,” says Chris.

LIC and CRV Ambreed are supporting the establishment of this research herd, with LIC managing the contract mating programme. LIC will start contacting more than 1000 selected dairy farmers during the last week of May.

Cow fertility is fundamental to dairy farm productivity, with the goal to get as many cows as possible in-calf in the first six weeks.

“More cows in-calf means more milk in the vat before Christmas, fewer replacements required, more flexibility when making culling decisions to improve herds and better returns overall for dairy farmers,” says Chris.

The research programme aims to lift the six-week in-calf rate from the current average of 65 percent to 78 percent. Achieving this would deliver an estimated annual increase in profit of $500 million.

“This is a challenging target that cannot be achieved using current knowledge and technologies alone,” says Chris. “A biological breakthrough is required.

“The research herd will help us to unravel the underlying biology that differentiates genetically fertile cows from infertile cows. The programme has assembled some of the best scientists in New Zealand and Australia to work together with this research herd.”

The fertility programme’s biggest challenge is reducing the apparent 30 percent of conceptions occurring in the first 35 days after insemination that are not sustained as a pregnancy.

The magnitude, timing and possible reasons for pregnancy failure in commercially-operated herds will be measured.

This has not been done previously and will be a major collaborative effort between DairyNZ, AgResearch and Fonterra, says Chris.

The fertility research programme also aims to increase the power to select for improved fertility genotypes through use of novel phenotypes (new ways to measure fertility for selection purposes), improved recording and enhanced statistical analysis models.

The cow fertility research programme is part of a partnership programme with matched co-funding from DairyNZ and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). Additional funding and resources will be provided by AgResearch, Fonterra, LIC and CRV Ambreed.

The research will be led by DairyNZ’s Dr Chris Burke and, along with other scientists from DairyNZ, involves internationally-recognised science teams from AgResearch, University of Victoria-Wellington, University of Queensland, Cognosco (a division of Anexa Animal Health), New Zealand Animal Evaluation Ltd and genetics research company AbacusBio.


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