Is sexed semen the future?

I am not sure if the Irish market is large enough to justify the level of investment required to establish a sexed semen laboratory on these shores.

There seems to be adequate supply of sexed straws available at the present time. I also sense that there would need to be a strong export market for the straws that would emanate from such a facility, if it were to be built.

But, at the end of the day, all of this boils down to a commercial decision. So let the AI (artificial insemination) companies get on with it!

For me the big issue is this: can the use of sexed semen help drive performance within the Irish dairy and other livestock sectors? The answer to this question is a resounding ‘yes’.

Proven technology

First off, sexing is a proven technology. Sexed straws can be used successfully on maiden heifers and older cows. In short, the technology can be used to reduce, by almost 50%, the number of breeding females required to meet any herd’s future replacement requirements.

Where dairy is concerned, this allows for the much greater use of beef bulls.

I know Friesian bull calf prices have strengthened over recent weeks. However, relative to their coloured counterparts, they still represent a poor investment on the part of the farmers who bred them in the first place.

It’s often overlooked that a black and white bull calf costs as much to produce as a heifer calf – if standard semen was used at the outset. In contrast, beef semen is much cheaper to procure in the first place, yet it will produce a calf – heifer or bull – that is worth real money in the sale ring at any age.

The case for sexing dairy semen has been made many times over; not so for beef sires.

Adding to the attraction of sexed semen within the Irish dairy industry is the fact that the vast majority of cows are being bred at a time of the year when optimum conception rates can be expected.

It’s much easier to get a cow at grass back in calf during the long, warm days of May and June compared with the prospect of inseminating during the cold, dark days of December and January.

On that basis alone, one must assume that sexed semen would work extremely well at the height of Ireland’s dairy breeding season.

Milk recording

Another positive for sexed straws is the growing reliance on milk recording within the Irish dairy sector. At a very fundamental level, this complementary technology is helping producers to identify their best cows.

The use of sexed semen on the best cows within a herd represents the most efficient way possible to secure genetic gain within any milk business.

Yes, the use of sexed semen comes with a number of strong advisory guidelines; straws must be handled and thawed out with a degree of sensitivity in order to ensure their full viability. But these are matters that all farmers can easily comply with.

And, of course, all the AI companies use a technician service, if and when required.

So, yes, the use of sexed semen will play a critical role in further developing the Irish dairy sector over the coming years.