Records crucial to fertility gains in Gippsland

Records crucial to fertility gains in Gippsland

Herd Management
FERTILITY FOCUS: Janet Auchterlonie with her rising two-year-old dairy heifers at Dumbalk, Gippsland. Photo by Marian Macdonald.

FERTILITY FOCUS: Janet Auchterlonie with her rising two-year-old dairy heifers at Dumbalk, Gippsland. Photo by Marian Macdonald.

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Precise records ensured the Auchterlonie's Gippsland herd was selected to be part of DataGene's Ginfo program, the dairy industry's reference database for genetic information.

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When it comes to fertility or joining, you'd be hard pressed to find a record Janet Auchterlonie hasn't kept.

"We keep all sorts of records on joining, from who inseminated each cow, to establish the conception rates on different inseminators, to the timing of insemination," the Dumbalk dairy farmer explained.

Fertility is vital for Ms Auchterlonie and her husband, Rob, who milk 250 cross-bred cows as part of a seasonal calving operation in South Gippsland.

The couple also herd records six times a year.

It's due to these precise records that the Auchterlonie's herd was selected to be part of DataGene's Ginfo program, the dairy industry's reference database for genetic information.

"We keep meticulous records and have a good six-week in-calf rate of 75 per cent, there's a connection there I believe," Ms Auchterlonie said.

"Since I have been keeping meticulous records, our knowledge has improved.

"Also, through Ginfo, we are learning about lameness scoring.

"Within 24 hours of herd recording, we lameness-score every cow in the herd and send in the results.

"Ginfo is improving my record keeping and my ability as a manager.

"We are assessing the big picture, what is happening to our herd."

The evolving breeding philosophy

Seven years ago, Ms Auchterlonie assumed responsibility for bull selection.

Previously, they had Holsteins with some red and Jersey-crosses but Ms Auchterlonie began cross breeding to build hybrid vigour.

Now, the herd is 16pc Holstein and the remainder are crossbreds.

Half of the herd is three-way-crossed and the rest is a combination of two and four-way crosses.

"I use the Good Bulls Guide as my first port of call for the selection of Jerseys and Reds," Ms Auchterlonie said.

"It now has a crossbred section, which is great, and I will be using it in the future.

"I check-out the New Zealand, Scandinavian and Irish bulls that appear in the Holstein section.

"Mainly, my Holstein section is picked from a short-list given to me by my herd improvement company advisor who understands my selection criteria.

"I then vet all the bulls."

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Ms Auchterlonie's breeding philosophy is focused on health, stature and daughter fertility.

Short gestation is a key value as no cows are carried-over from one season to the next.

The average bodyweight has decreased from 650 kilograms to 550kg and production averages about 1kg of milk solids per kilogram of bodyweight.

Bought-in feed includes 1.5 tonne/cow/lactation of grain and hay.

Silage is homegrown and the milking platform is 113 hectares.

The final step in Ms Auchterlonie's breeding process includes evaluating the bulls for daughter fertility.

The farm's Genetic Progress Report tells a story of improvement.

All the major genetic merit indicators are heading in the right direction and, not surprisingly, fertility in both the crossbred and Holstein herd has been well above the national average.

Only new to the Ginfo program, Ms Auchterlonie wants to give back to the industry, while also learning more about breeding and the evolving breeding technologies.

"If data is collected from individual herds, all dairy farmers benefit," she said.

"The more dairy farmers involved in data collection, the better it is for the dairy industry in this country.

"If farmers are breeding better cows, it gives me more of a choice of what bulls to use for this herd."

For now, the Auchterlonies will continue to focus on their fertility metrics.

Currently, their three-week in-calf rate is 60pc but their six-week in-calf rate is only 75pc - something they want to understand so they can improve.

Other breeding goals include maintaining the low mortality rate, preserving or improving production and enhancing herd health.

Replacements will continue be bred from the best genetic merit animals but, in future, beef will used to join the remainder of the herd.

All this would be achieved while maintaining a strict six-week dry period as part of their seasonal calving system.

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The story Records crucial to fertility gains in Gippsland first appeared on Stock & Land.

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