Ge­netic se­lec­tion pays off

Dairy News Australia - - FRONT PAGE -

HOL­STEIN BULL Cal­is­ter Mae­bull has been in de­mand since he re­ceived his first ABV in April but to breeder, Craig Lis­ter, the more pleas­ing as­pect is the sire’s con­tri­bu­tion to his end goal. “We’re try­ing to breed the ul­ti­mate com­mer­cial cow,” Craig said. “One that will ef­fi­ciently con­vert feed to milk solids; is not prone to mas­ti­tis; gets back in calf; and with­out any type fault that would re­strict a long and pro­duc­tive life.” When Craig — a fourth gen­er­a­tion farmer — be­gan share farm­ing in 2003, the Hol­stein herd he pur­chased was ranked be­low na­tional aver­age for ge­netic merit. Now, Cal­is­ter Hol­steins is in the top 10 Aus­tralian herds for ge­netic merit ranked ac­cord­ing to prof­itabil­ity (BPI). Craig says adop­tion of ge­nomic test­ing was crit­i­cal in im­prov­ing his herd. In­volve­ment in in­dus­try projects dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of ge­nomic breed­ing val­ues con­vinced Craig of the tech­nol­ogy’s merit and he sub­se­quently be­gan in­vest­ing in ge­nomic test­ing once it be­came com­mer­cially avail­able in 2011. Since 2014, ev­ery heifer and about 25 per cent of bulls are now sam­pled within weeks of birth. For the bulls, the ge­nomic re­sults de­ter­mine whether they are des­tined for a ca­reer in AI or to be sold as herd bulls. For heifers, the in­creased data re­li­a­bil­ity pro­vided by ge­nomic test­ing en­ables more ac­cu­rate breed­ing de­ci­sions, es­pe­cially for low her­i­tabil­ity traits such as daugh­ter fer­til­ity and longevity. Heifers in the top 10 per cent for breed­ing val­ues from the ge­nomic test­ing are used as donors in the em­bryo trans­fer pro­gram, with the low­est 25 per cent of ge­netic merit and cross­bred cows in the herd used as re­cips. The rest are bred con­ven­tion­ally for AI. All heifers are joined to sexed se­men achiev­ing 50% calf on ground rate from fresh sexed se­men of which 90% are heifers. They get more than 50 heifer calves a year from that. “It’s a pow­er­ful tool to re­build your herd,” Craig said Cal­is­ter Mae­bull is cur­rently the num­ber 2 proven BPI Aus­tralian daugh­ter proven sire. Mae­bull was bred from a pack­age of em­bryos pur­chased and im­ported from Morn­ingview Hol­steins in Iowa, when on­line em­bryo auc­tions, coin­cid­ing with a high Aus­tralian dol­lar, pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity to cost ef­fec­tively in­vest in blood­lines from north Amer­ica. The em­bryos are out of Morn­ingview SHTL Lucy, with a fam­ily his­tory in­clud­ing Palermo, Shot­tle, O’Man and Durham. Lucy’s dam was a full sis­ter to Morn­ingview Leg­end, a bull which has had suc­cess in ABV rank­ings. Mae­bull has 69 milk­ing daugh­ters and com­bined with his ge­nomic re­sults, has a 90 per cent re­li­a­bil­ity for pro­duc­tion traits. Mae­bull has a BPI of $303 and high rat­ings for sur­vival, cell count and also daugh­ter fer­til­ity. The Lis­ters have four Mae­bull daugh­ters milk­ing in the herd. Sev­eral of the stud’s most po­tent ma­ter­nal blood­lines orig­i­nate from cows pur­chased at the 2008 Calivil Creek Hol­steins dispersal sale.

“I made the de­ci­sion in 2008, if I’m reg­is­ter­ing cows, I’d start with good brood stock,” Craig said. He pur­chased 8 head from Calivil Creek, which have bred the lines of AI sires Bowyang and Liv­ingston. They also pur­chased heifers at IDW sales, in­clud­ing the dam of Can­jam, who was 14th ge­nomic bull over­all. Cows are culled on cell count and fer­til­ity. “If you want longevity in cows, choose those with a high sur­vival in­dex; high fer­til­ity in­dex and high pro­duc­tion,” he said. Craig said ge­nomics has proven a mas­sive step to­wards the im­prove­ment of both his, and the na­tional herd. “The abil­ity to mea­sure progress on heifers as soon as they drop means you can make de­ci­sions im­me­di­ately. “You get the heads up straight away on sur­viv­abil­ity and fer­til­ity, which are both low her­i­tabil­ity. Pre­vi­ously, you wouldn’t know un­til the end of their ca­reer.”

Farm man­age­ment

The milk price crash forced the Lis­ters to heav­ily de­stock but the end re­sult has made them more self-suf­fi­cient. Be­tween May and Oc­to­ber 2016, 217 dairy cows and 57 re­place­ment heifers were sold, pro­vid­ing a valu­able cash­flow and re­duc­ing the stock­ing rate to a level where the busi­ness was self-suf­fi­cient for fod­der re­quire­ments with only min­i­mal in­puts. They were milk­ing 450 at the time of the milk crash but now milk 350 and carry 250 re­place­ments. “We are en­joy­ing the lower stock­ing rate,” Craig said. “We’re self-suf­fi­cient now, apart from grain which we buy in.” Craig and Sharon farm 702 hectares of ir­ri­ga­tion land (396 ha owned and 306 ha leased off Craig’s mother, Judy). De­pend­ing on ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter avail­abil­ity, about 100–150 ha is utilised for graz­ing the dairy herd, with the re­main­ing land farmed dry or op­por­tunis­ti­cally ir­ri­gated to carry re­place­ments, dry stock and pro­duce fod­der. They lease a to­tal of 900ML of high re­li­a­bil­ity wa­ter en­ti­tle­ment from Judy, through the Goulburn Ir­ri­ga­tion Sys­tem. The graz­ing area con­sists of Lucerne or Span­ish/Ital­ian rye-grass and clover pas­tures, while an­nual rye-grass and sub clover crops pro­vide the bulk of the fine-chop silage har­vest (500– 800tDM/year). A roam­ing 100 ha ce­real crop­ping ro­ta­tion pro­vides the herd’s rough hay re­quire­ments, while as­sist­ing with weed con­trol and the pas­ture ren­o­va­tion pro­gram. They pro­duced 1100t DM in hay last year, which will last for a few years, and aim to pro­duce 600t DM of silage each year. Homegrown for­ages are sup­ple­mented with a cus­tom grain, legume and min­eral blend in the dairy, of which the com­po­si­tion and amount fed is al­tered to bal­ance the herd’s nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments. The 50-stand ro­tary dairy has au­to­matic cup re­movers and re­ten­tion bars so the herd can be milked by a sin­gle op­er­a­tor. Craig’s mum, Judy, re­lief milks three times a week, and also rears calves, and Sharon also re­lief milks. They have one non-milk­ing full-time em­ployee to as­sist with gen­eral farm du­ties. “We fo­cus on hav­ing as much feed as we can di­rectly grazed by cows. We have a con­crete feed pad with troughs and used a PMR sys­tem with a mixer wagon be­fore. “It was a good op­por­tu­nity for max­imis­ing feed use ef­fi­iciency but it adds costs and re­quires ad­di­tional labour. It dou­bles the cost of feed when you con­serve it and feed it back.”

Craig and Sharon Lis­ter with their daugh­ter, Emily.

Craig Lis­ter with his Hol­stein herd on his Calivil farm.

WHO: Craig and Sharon Lis­ter WHERE: Calivil WHAT: Ge­nomics

80% of Craig and Sharon Lis­ter’s herd is reg­is­tered

Craig and Sharon Lis­ter with their daugh­ter, Emily.

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