Never judge a cow by her coat, genes reveal

Never judge a cow by her coat, genes reveal

Herd Management
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There's a lesson for every livestock farmer in the story of how a couple discovered Australia's most profitable dairy cow: you should never judge a cow by its coat.

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LOST IN THE HERD: Christine Sebire and husband Andrew found it difficult to find the stellar young cow, who lived up to her "Mystery" moniker, and turned out to be a rather average-looking quiet achiever. Photo by Greg Tiller.

LOST IN THE HERD: Christine Sebire and husband Andrew found it difficult to find the stellar young cow, who lived up to her "Mystery" moniker, and turned out to be a rather average-looking quiet achiever. Photo by Greg Tiller.

There's a lesson for every livestock farmer in the story of how a couple discovered Australia's most profitable dairy cow: you should never judge a cow by its coat.

Andrew and Christine Sebire were left scratching their heads after hearing they owned the nation's highest genomically-ranked cow.

Although she scored a staggering Balanced Performance Index (BPI) of $436, neither of the Echuca West dairy farmers could remember the heifer aptly-named Ivyhurst Mystery OC.

Even after doing a few laps of the paddock on their quad bikes searching for their elite cow, the couple were left bemused.

When they finally found her, the Sebires rang Holstein Australia to apologise.

She wasn't a classic black-and-white specimen of the breed.

Mr Sebire describes Ivyhurst Mystery OC as a "nugget" and jokingly begged Stock & Land not to take her photo.

But this rising three-year-old's rather average appearance belies the stellar performance that earned her our front page.

In her first lactation, Ivyhurst Mystery OC produced 4.51 per cent fat and 3.79pc protein, totalling 591 kilograms of milk solids as a heifer.

That's 1.18kgMS per kg of body weight.

Impressive production didn't compromise her reproduction either, as she got in calf with a single straw of semen each time.

And that $436 BPI, explained DataGene genetics and delivery group leader Michelle Axford, reflected all-round performance.

"I think this strikes at the heart of the Balanced Performance Index (BPI)," Ms Axford said.

"There are more than 45 traits that we can breed for - which can be pretty tough to work with - so DataGene combines the traits with most economic value into an overall number that we use to rank cows, herds and bulls.

"This means top cows and bulls can have different combinations of strengths and weaknesses.

"In the case of Mystery, she has particular strengths for production with an extraordinary ASI (Australian Selection Index) of $310 and well above-average daughter fertility score of 113."

Neither Mr or Ms Sebire would have identified Mystery as an elite cow without the benefit of genetic and herd-test data.

"The genetics could tell us that she was going to be a fertile cow and that's proven to be true," Ms Sebire said.

"The genetics could tell us that she was going to be a good producer.

"She is and yet she doesn't look like that."

The Sebires contribute to the Ginfo project, Australia's national reference herd for genetic information.

Ginfo gathers detailed information on more than 30,000 cows including their genotypes, classification scores and performance data from herd testing.

Ms Sebire said the results had been eye-opening.

"Sometimes the most impressive-looking cows actually have really low BPIs," she said.

"So that's been a lesson for us: not judging them by their appearance but by their potential.

"We are starting to see how that can be used to justify which cows you keep and which you don't.

"The ones you think are really valuable may not necessarily be."

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The story Never judge a cow by her coat, genes reveal first appeared on Stock & Land.

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