Farmers Seeking More Productive Heifers Turn To Fresh Sexed Bull Semen To Meet Breeding Goals
Herd improvement and agri-tech cooperative LIC, the only provider of fresh, liquid sexed semen to New Zealand dairy farmers, is preparing for a busy spring as more farmers factor this new component into their 2020 breeding programmes.
Fresh sexed semen from LIC is helping dairy farmers accelerate genetic gain within their herds by enabling them to get more replacement heifer (female) calves from their top performing cows. It delivers a 90 per cent chance of producing a heifer, providing surplus calves with having an increased chance of being retained on farm and destined for either domestic or export beef markets.
LIC General Manager NZ Markets, Malcolm Ellis says demand for fresh sexed bull semen has been steadily increasing over the last few seasons with this year set to more than triple 2019 sales.
“With farmers proactively looking at ways to mitigate consumer, environmental and animal welfare concerns, sexed semen is a useful tool to have in their tool box,” he says. “Over recent years in the New Zealand dairy sector the capital gain model that thrived is over and regulatory and environmental considerations are front of mind. Farmers have become acutely aware that if they are unable to milk more cows, they need to milk better ones. This means that increasing genetic gain through breeding the best quality heifer calves has become an even more valued aspect of dairy farmers’ seasonal focus.”
Ellis says with spring now here, the increase in sexed semen demand has seen LIC invest in its widest distribution of the product to date across New Zealand including, for the first season, the inclusion of all three major dairy breeds with Jersey added to last year’s offering.
The distribution of bull semen involves intricate care and speed to ensure LIC maintains high non return rates (NRR). The process starts with an early collection from bulls before the semen is tested, processed and packed into long last liquid straws. It’s then dispatched across the country on a daily basis throughout the artificial breeding season.
From there, LIC’s artificial breeding technician team inseminate cows across the country. Last year they inseminated over four million cows for dairy farmers resulting in around $300 million in genetic gain.
And in the New Zealand dairy industry context, fresh is best when it comes to sexed semen as it gives farmers a better chance of getting cows in calf compared with frozen sexed semen Ellis explains.
“Our fresh liquid sexed semen is unique to LIC and delivers conception rates similar to normal semen i.e. only a three-to-five per cent lower conception rate which makes it commercially viable. This is particularly important in New Zealand’s pasture-based seasonal farming environment where days in milk are highly valued.
Owl Farm (St Peter’s School, Cambridge) and Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF) are examples of farms using LIC’s fresh sexed semen as part of their herd improvement strategies. With a highly targeted approach to mating, both farms have achieved similar mating (conception and non-return) results with fresh sexed semen compared to conventional liquid semen within their respective 2019 mating programmes.
LUDF consultant Jeremy Savage says fresh sexed semen is part of the main strategy behind LUDF’s breeding programme.
“With fresh sexed semen we are able to produce high genetic merit heifer replacements out of our best breeding cattle. In addition, it enables us to reduce bobby calf numbers and breed beef animals instead, which are more marketable,” he says.
“Using liquid or fresh sexed semen should increase your herd’s profitability over time. It speeds up the rate of genetic progress and should be considered a strategic investment to increase profitability in the long-term.”
Owl Farm manager Tom Buckley says speed and ease are some of the benefits of using liquid sexed semen compared to frozen.
“We’ve been using LIC’s fresh sexed semen for a year to drive genetic gain within the herd with great results and we will continue to do so. We’ve also been able to put a greater percentage of our herd to beef. It’s been an opportunity to increase our tactical use of beef breeds to increase stock sales revenue and part of our efforts to reduce bobby calf numbers, which were halved this year.”
LIC genetics business manager Greg Hamill says farmers are also considering fresh sexed semen as part of their environmental planning on farm. He explains that high genetic merit animals’ partition more feed into milksolids and are better environmentally in regards to methane emissions and nitrogen excretion.
“With our genetics offerings, LIC is doing its best to help the industry reduce the volume of bobby calves bred and leaving farmer properties. We believe our fresh sexed semen product is a significant shift forward in achieving this and enabling the dairy industry to maintain its global standing and competitiveness.”