Milk­ing time for the na­tion’s star bulls

Sunday Star-Times - - News - AL WIL­LIAMS

The soft­ware will in­di­cate whether there is any in­breed­ing. We don't have any stock with two heads. David Hale, na­tional breed­ing man­ager for the Live­stock Im­prove­ment Cor­po­ra­tion

Meet the All in­sem­i­na­tion.

An elite squad of 36 ‘‘fine young men’’ are all tagged and num­bered – ready to keep our dairy in­dus­try in stock.

In fact, 4.6 mil­lion in­sem­i­na­tions are ex­pected na­tion­ally through this breed­ing pro­gramme, which gen­er­ates roughly $350 mil­lion in milk pro­duc­tion a year.

New Zealand would likely be in a state of emer­gency with­out them, and Auck­land folks would miss out on their lat­tes, ar­ti­fi­cial breed­ing man­ager David Hale says.

Breed­ing sea­son is al­ready ramp­ing up with more than 1300 sea­sonal staff scat­tered across the coun­try, busy in­sem­i­nat­ing cows.

Hale, re­cently ap­pointed na­tional breed­ing man­ager for the Live­stock Im­prove­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (LIC) is ac­count­able to 10,500 share­hold­ers – Kiwi dairy farm­ers – and is on the phone from Whakatane as he makes his way from North­land to In­ver­cargill to get a ‘‘hands-on’’ ex­pe­ri­ence of the na­tional breed­ing pro­gramme.

There is a stack of sci­ence in­volved, a DNA map which stretches back more than 100 years, plus a sense of hu­mour, he says.

‘‘We have to have a sense of hu­mour; we talk about sperm cells and se­men in ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tion.’’

Math is in­volved, with ad­di­tion, sub­trac­tion, divi­sion and mul­ti­pli­ca­tion help­ing de­ter­mine who ex­actly the fine young men are.

It all sounds a lit­tle com­plex, so we ask Hale to put it in lay­man terms.

‘‘The eas­i­est way to de­scribe it is Blacks of bovine when our bulls are aged one, we gen­er­ate 80 daugh­ters from each of them, and four years later their daugh­ters get herd tested.

‘‘We look at the girls’ test re­sults, dif­fer­ent breed­ing val­ues in­clud­ing pro­tein, fat, live weight, resid­ual sur­vival, fer­til­ity and bac­te­ria in the milk.

‘‘We call it breed­ing worth, and the top 20 per cent of the 180 – 36 boys – are used for breed­ing na­tion­ally; so it is the girls who tell us how good the boys are.’’

LIC has New Zealand herd records, dig­i­tal and hard copy, which go back more than 100 years, Hale says. It helps com­bat in­breed­ing.

‘‘Tech­ni­cians have data on hand, and each cow has a unique ID with in­for­ma­tion that goes back three gen­er­a­tions.

‘‘The soft­ware will in­di­cate whether there is any in­breed­ing. We don’t have any stock with two heads,’’ he jokes.

From Septem­ber un­til De­cem­ber 24, about 100,000 straws of bull sperm are dis­patched and de­liv­ered each day, Hale says.

‘‘It’s im­por­tant to keep it at con­stant tem­per­a­ture.’’

The breed­ing pro­gramme is unique to New Zealand and was first de­vel­oped by Dr Pa­trick Shan­non more than 60 years ago, Hale says.

‘‘He worked for LIC nearly all his life; he was the one who de­cided that we could use fresh a se­men to in­sem­i­nate cows in­stead of freez­ing it.

‘‘When we col­lect se­men from a bull, we gen­er­ate 500 to 700 straws, and we di­lute the ejac­u­late. Dr Pa­trick was a key part of mov­ing from frozen to fresh sperm.’’

The pro­gramme evolved and be­tween 3000 and 7000 straws can now be made from one ejac­u­late.

Fresh se­men straws are dis­patched to tech­ni­cians na­tion­wide, for in­sem­i­na­tion into cows as early as the same af­ter­noon fol­low­ing col­lec­tion.

The pro­gramme he says.

‘‘It’s pretty much tai­lor-made for New Zealand based on a grass­fed sys­tem.

‘‘We ex­port to other coun­tries who are try­ing to em­u­late our sys­tem, in­clud­ing Ar­gentina, Brazil and Chile.

‘‘We are establishing closer links with those coun­tries and have Ki­wis who own and run dairy op­er­a­tions in those coun­tries.’’

Hale, from a sheep and beef back­ground, says he sees no neg­a­tive im­pacts from dairy­ing in New Zealand.

‘‘We can al­ways do things bet­ter as the world changes and tech­nol­ogy grows.’’ is ex­pand­ing,

SUP­PLIED

Live­stock Im­prove­ment Cor­po­ra­tion ar­ti­fi­cial breed­ing man­ager Dave Hale says the job re­quires a sense of hu­mour. The work also in­volves maths and sci­ence as lab­o­ra­tory tech­ni­cian Brooke Hamil­ton can at­test.

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