In the coming weeks, Irish dairy farmers will be sitting down to select sires to breed the next generation of cows on their farms.

AgriLand recently caught up with Mark Ryder, LIC Europe general manager, to find out why the New Zealand industry has moved away from genomic selection after initially embracing it.

Ryder began: “From a New Zealand perspective, we were the first to get into genomics and we saw a lot of excitement in the New Zealand industry about the benefits that can be gained by shortening the generation interval.

“We got into it on a large scale initially and up to 40% of our 4.5 million inseminations were actually genomic.

“But, what we actually found, as we monitored the performance of the daughters of those bulls as they started milking in New Zealand, we found that we were getting quite a large variation.

We were creating some very elite females, but we were also creating some quite poor ones.

Ryder admitted that a large team of bulls was used and the average BW (breeding worth) that was expected was achieved. But, there was quite a large variation in the performance of the cows produced.

“Farmers were very unhappy about young cows leaving the herd early and they were getting quite a bit of wastage.

“In Ireland, it costs €1,400-1,500 to get a heifer into milk. If only 25% of those heifers coming in are any good, it’s not economic so we’ve changed our approach.”

Given this, the New Zealand based co-operative is now using genomics to select young bulls before proving them for the future. The process of proving a bull, he said, costs in the region of NZ$40,000-50,000.

Given the co-op’s stance, wholesale genomic semen sales now only equate to about 5-6% of all of the inseminations made on New Zealand farms and 94-95% of farmers are choosing straws from bulls with high reliability.

“We are encouraging farmers here to use teams of genomic bulls. But, you’re still going to get the same result.

It will deliver the average, but you are going to create heifers that aren’t going to last in the herd.

Due to this, Ryder encouraged farmers to focus on the use of high-reliability sires when it comes to breeding the next generation of their cows for their herds.

“LIC’s New Zealand bred bull team is backed up by daughter proven data, which includes at least one full lactation in New Zealand.

“The reliability of this information gives LIC the confidence that LIC sires have outstanding genetic merit to meet the individual needs of pasture-based farmers.”

From speaking to Ryder, it’s clear that LIC is not totally against genomics. But, instead, the co-op is focused on supplying its dairy farmer customers with reliable genetics that will go one to deliver in the parlour.

Risks with genomics

Along with creating “a large variation” in the off-spring produced, the LIC representative also touched on the dangers of genomics-on-genomics breeding.

“There’s a huge risk there and we see it a lot in this country. We are seeing it start to play out now as some of those genomic proofs aren’t delivering.”

This, he said, is been proven by the daughters of some bulls actually passing through the parlour.

Some of the indexes of those genomic bulls are dropping significantly. And, the way that the industry has been using it here, there’s a lot of genomics-on-genomics.

“There’s a lot of AI companies that have got genomic sires – bull calves that they’ve paid good money for –  and all of a sudden they are not worth a hell of a lot because their sire – who was genomic – has now dropped. Correspondingly, those bulls have dropped as well,” he said.