Breeders should ‘start with a goal’ – ICBF and Sheep Conference

Beef and dairy cattle breeders should “start with a goal”, and “write down what they want to achieve”, in order to improve genetic trends, according to a leading Kiwi expert.

Prof. Dorian Garrick, chief scientist from the School of Agriculture and Environment at Massey University in New Zealand, was speaking today (Wednesday, December 5) at the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) and Sheep Ireland Genetics Conference 2018.

The conference, held in Athlone, heard from several speakers in the area of improving genetic trends in beef cattle, dairy cattle and sheep.

The first thing I’d ask is: What do you want to achieve? Can you tell me what you want to achieve, if you’re a breeder? Can you write down what you want to achieve, what your goal is?

“You have to start with a goal before you consider anything else in your breeding programme,” explained Prof. Garrick.

“If you’re not farming for sustainable prosperity, you should probably be doing something else.”

He argued that, once breeders have a goal in place, then they can consider what changes are to be made, including changes in genetic traits.

According to Prof. Garrick, starting with a goal is the first step of a logical process in breeding better animals – a process that includes such factors as selection criteria, breeding scheme design, dissemination systems, mating plans and economic analysis.

If you want to have a goal that’s to do with profit or prosperity, then you need to be selecting for all the things that affect income, all the things that affect cost. So, if we’re looking at the future, we need to think about how good a job are you doing with respect to the traits that were on that list.

Prof. Garrick said that Irish farmers are doing a good job of measuring income traits, but could perform better in selecting for “virtually everything else” – although he acknowledged that most other traits are less obvious, and harder to measure, than income.