According to Ervin McKinstry, Manager of Genus ABS and ABS Ireland the aim should be a high genetic merit dairy herd that has production, health and longevity. Achieving a high genetic merit herd has been a lifetime ambition for many of today’s dairy farmers but the good news is that the dairy farmer of tomorrow has the opportunity to achieve this in a much shorter time span.
Ervin McKinstry explains: “Using our sexed/sorted semen which we call ABS Sexation the dairy farmer can ensure that herd replacements are bred only from the top genetics in the herd and this process can be achieved much more rapidly by the use of sexed semen which ensures only heifer calves born to these high genetic females.”
As the cost of sexed semen is higher than conventional semen, the rumour mill justifies its decision to avoid it by honing in on the fact that conception rates will be lower. Thus, farmers have, naturally been sceptical in the current difficult economic circumstances.
On the other hand, a large number of farmers have achieved faster genetic progress, increased calf income and prevented the introduction of disease from bought in heifers with this system. The secret is apparently in the heat detection protocol, semen handling and preparation of the cows or heifers to be inseminated.
James Woods, Reproductive Management Services , Genus ABS, added: “For the best results, sexed semen should be used on heifers and second calvers only and the animals need to be carefully monitored and managed. When using sexed semen on heifers, the animal must be properly grown. Heifers should have achieved 60% of their target calving weight by the start of the breeding period. An animal targeted to calve down at 600kg needs to be a minimum of 360kg when she is served. As well as being well grown, she needs to be in a suitable condition score - a body condition score of 3.0-3.5 at the onset of breeding.
“These heifers should be receiving a consistent diet for at least six weeks prior and the six weeks post-breeding. To avoid any disruptions to the routine, we would advise all veterinary treatments and vaccinations are carried out at least six weeks prior to the start of the breeding period and stressful events such as housing and transportation should be avoided during this time.
“Finally, observe for signs of heat for the six weeks preceding the breeding period and only inseminate after two clear heats have been observed.
“These principles also apply to second calvers where it is planned to use sexed semen. Cows should be inseminated between 70-120 days in milk and two heat cycles should be observed before insemination.
“Regular cycles are a sign of good energy balance and progesterone profiles. Both influence egg quality and embryo survival. For these reasons it is also important to avoid excess loss of condition in the first 60 days in milk. A loss on 0.5 of a score can reduce conception rates by 40%.”
James also advises not using sexed semen on cows that have had health problems in the lactation. He points out that cows with mastitis or which had post natal disease such as metritis will have reduced potential conception rates. Equally cows with poor mobility will have lower conception rates.
Finally, whether inseminating cows or heifers it is essential to handle the semen correctly as sexed semen has a shorter life span in the female tract. Stick rigidly to times and temperatures post thaw, and handle the semen carefully.
Adhering to these recommendations the dairy farmer has the opportunity, not only to increase the genetic merit of the existing herd but also to increase the herd size with high genetic merit heifers, both of which will improve production and profitability, without the risk of importing disease through the purchase of herd replacements, Alternatively he/she has quality breeding animals to sell and thus augment farm income. In addition beef semen can be used on the lower end of the herd and provide more valuable calves for sale.
James concludes: “Our research has indicated that the small extra cost for sexed semen is more than repaid by the benefits achieved and if the recommendations are strictly adhered to then conception rates are equal to conventional semen. With ABS Sexation the certainty of producing a heifer, with exactly the traits you require, has never been greater, never mind all of the other benefits outlined.”
For further information contact Brian McCarron on 07768058453, or the Genus ABS office on 028 38 334426