Multi-agency initiative doubles sire recording at birth

A multi-agency initiative to improve calf sire recording at birth has more than doubled the proportion of calves registered with a sire in Northern Ireland.

“It is well known that successful breeding, which includes the selection of high performing sires, will improve key production and profit-driving characteristics, such as beef or milk production, fertility or calving ease,” Frances Titterington, a researcher at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) said.

“Even though half of a calf’s genetic potential comes from the sire, researchers at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) have found that less than 10% of calf births registered in Northern Ireland included information that could identify the individual sire.”

Challenges

To address the issue, AFBI assembled a team of stakeholders including farmers and representatives from breed societies; breeding companies; the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA); the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE); milk recording organisations; and AgriSearch.

The objective of the initiative is to understand why so few farmers were recording sire details and what could be done to increase the level of recording.

“It was immediately apparent that farmers found it difficult to enter sire data,” Titterington added.

“For example, the tag number of a bull which had left the herd was not displayed in APHIS, even though calves sired by him could continue to be born up to nine months after his departure.

“In addition, the tag number of a sire from artificial insemination (AI) may not be readily available.”

Changes

To address the issues using stakeholders’ inputs, AFBI recommended several key changes to the birth registration process.

“Many of these changes have now been embedded into APHIS, [the department’s animal registration system], and will also feature in NIFAIS (Northern Ireland Food Animal Information System), which is to replace APHIS,” said AFBI researcher Dr. Steven Morrison.

“These changes have been designed to streamline the data entry process and to make it easier to complete notifications as well as simplifying the sire recording process.

“With greater numbers of sires recorded will come greater knowledge of which sires are passing on favourable characteristics to their calves. This will be a key driver of genetic improvement in local herds.”

The specific changes include:

  • Sire ear tag: When selecting ear tag, there is the option to select bulls currently in the herd and bulls which have been registered to the herd in the previous 12 months; meaning last year’s sire can be registered accurately.
  • Sire breed: Similar to the previous entry form but now the most common breeds are conveniently listed at the top of the drop down box to facilitate data entry.
  • NMR AI code: The six-digit National Milk Records AI code identifies individual AI sires and gives an accurate record of any straws used. This information is available from AI catalogues and online at: www.nmr.co.uk
  • An ‘Other’ section allowing an opportunity to enter additional data about the sire.

In addition to this new functionality for entering new notifications, it is possible to update sire information for current animals in the herd, meaning details such as the NMR code can be added.

The sire information in both the APHIS herd list can also be viewed via a checkbox option on the herd list or individually on a single animal basis through the “view animal details” button.

Since the introduction of AFBI’s suggested changes to the system in December 2017, the level of individually identifiable sires recorded on APHIS has more than doubled from 10% to over 21%.

It’s hoped the improved levels of sire recording will help producers to make future breeding choices and enhance the user’s experience of AFBI’s online suite of cattle management tools.