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Coromandel dairy farmers lead the way through new genetics

27 September 2018

In 1995 Andrew and Maree Palmer saw the value of being part of CRV Ambreed’s progeny testing programme so jumped on board and haven’t looked back.

Andrew and Maree have had a hand in developing many generations of daughter proven sires.

Today, they’re still part of the herd improvement company’s progeny testing programme and reckon they’re doing their bit to strengthen the value of the national dairy herd.

The progeny testing programme involves a group of farmers using the genetics of young genomically selected sires for their matings. CRV Ambreed then closely monitors the progeny (daughters) of the young sires through herd testing and TOP inspections to determine which sires will offer the best genetic gain to dairy farmers in New Zealand and overseas.

Andrew and Maree own an 82-hectare farm in Opoutere on the Coromandel Peninsula and currently milk 240 Jerseys, all of which have been bred with progeny testing genetics.

When their first lot of heifers from the programme came into the herd in 1997, Andrew says he knew he was onto something good.

“Seeing the herd quality, the TOP inspector left behind an entry form for the Royal Agricultural Society Dairy heifer competition and we ended up winning the sire-proving division that year,” says Andrew.

“It gave me a confidence boost that I’d made a good decision, so we stuck with the progeny test programme,” he says.

In the last four years the Palmers have moved to sire-proving 100% of their herd compared to 80% or less in previous years.

New Zealand dairy farmers have been working with CRV Ambreed for over 30 years to develop generations of daughter proven sires.

The elite Holstein Friesian, Crossbred and Jersey bull calves selected for CRV Ambreed’s progeny test programme ultimately ensure dairy farmers’ herds are competitive and continue to be more productive and more profitable in the future.

CRV Ambreed screens more than 1,500 bull calves from farms across the country for its progeny test programme each year.

Around 750 bulls go through genomic selection and are further assessed using the breeding team’s knowledge of the cows and their families.

From there, 150 six-month-old bull calves are carefully selected for their genetic potential and enter the progeny testing programme to examine the genetic potential of each bull.

At around 12 months, progeny test sires reach maturity and have their semen harvested at CRV Ambreed’s production and logistics centre. The semen is then distributed to contracted progeny testing herds like the Palmer’s nationwide to assess in a range of environments and farming systems.

Andrew says progeny testing gets better every year with enhanced genetics coming into the programme. In particular, milk speed, temperament and production has improved considerably across his herd.

“When we first started with progeny testing, our target was 53,000 kilograms of milksolids, but in our first year we were already doing 60,000 to 62,000 per year,” Andrew explains.

“Now we’ve moved our target to 75,000 milk solids per year and the quality of the herd means we achieve this really easily. We could achieve our target by the end of April and dry off. We’ve stuck with it for such a long time because I’m happy with the results,” he says.

Andrew recommends other farmers try progeny testing to access new innovations and advancements in genetic technology.

“In general, the work involved with progeny testing is pretty similar to what I had already been doing. The only additions are putting up the heifers for TOP inspections and weighing each year, as well as completing a farmer traits assessment,” he says.

It takes four years for bulls selected for progeny testing to be proven as having the highest genetic gain, based on the production and performance traits of their daughters. These top 15% of bulls feature in CRV Ambreed’s annual catalogue, which thousands of dairy farmers use each year to select the right genetics to meet their herd improvement goals.

But Andrew says it’s having access to the best genetics sooner that makes him sign up for progeny testing year-on-year.

“We’re a step ahead because we’re getting the animals into the herd three years earlier than those using nominated genetics,” says Andrew.

“At the end of the day, you need good genetics to get a good cow to produce quality milk. I’m getting as good a cow out of progeny testing as I was getting out of proven genetics.”

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