New index works for large herd (Jo and Bryan Dickson, April 2015)

With a large, high production herd, Jo and Bryan Dickson (Emu Banks) are looking forward to having the flexibility to use each of the new breeding indices to choose sires to use over different groups of cows.
“As a commercially focussed herd, we will use the Balanced Performance Index to select sires to use over most of the herd. That’s the index that best matches our breeding goal which is to breed highly profitable cows. We are looking for high production cows with the health, fertility and functional type to last many years in our herd,” Jo said. “But there will be small groups of cows that we particularly want to improve fertility and cell count so we will use the Health Weighted Index to choose sires to use over them. And similarly there’s a small group that we want to primarily improve functional type so we’ll use the Type Weighted Index to select their sires,” she said.
Jo and Bryan have two dairy farms near Terang in Victoria’s Western District. The home property has predominantly Holsteins and another property, with mostly Jerseys, is run by a manager. They recently purchased a property neighbouring the home farm which will allow the Holstein herd to be expanded from the current 700 to 900 in the coming years. In the April 2015 ABV release, the Dickson’s Holstein herd ranked number eight in the country for profit. Average production is about 9000L/cow/year and 630-640kg milk solids. Each year the Dicksons sell 50-60 bulls to AB companies, local farmers and the export market.
Jo and Bryan make the breeding decisions together. Most years they use 40-50 different sires, including about 20% progeny test bulls. With such a large herd, Jo said they tend to break it into groups for breeding decisions: first calvers, elite cows for flushing, the main herd, cows to improve specific traits.
Profit is the key selection criteria for choosing sires to use over most the herd. “As our focus is profit we’ll mostly use the list of bulls based on the new Balanced Performance Index. I am happy that it places more emphasis on fertility and longevity traits than the old APR; it means the index is progressing with farmers’ evolving needs,” she said. “We use the Good Bulls Guide, both the brochure that comes in the mail and the web-version to create a short list of bulls to research in more detail. We use mostly Australian sires but we also try to include a couple of bulls from overseas for genetic diversity.”
Different groups
When Bryan and Jo use a synchronisation program over the main herd, they use ‘bull of the day’ for joinings. Progeny test sires are included in this mix. If the cows haven’t been synchronised, Bryan decides on individual matings based on a combination of Genescreen recommendations (to avoid inbreeding or joining two haplotype carriers) and his own knowledge of the cow family.
When it comes to the maiden heifers, the sire’s calving ease is considered, as well as profit. The Dicksons use Genesreen to determine individual matings for heifers, based on their pedigree. This year they plan to use sexed, fresh semen over some of the heifers. “Although we will be limited to the bulls available through the fresh, sexed semen service, we’ll still select from those available for profit and calving ease,” Jo said.
The elite cows go into the flushing program which focusses on breeding bulls for sale to AB companies. “We use individual matings for the elite cows. Like the rest of the herd, we use some PT sires in the flushing program but they tend to be the ones that have better genomic results,” she said.
The only time profit is a secondary priority is when selecting sires to use over the small group of cows with individual traits for improvement – such as fertility, cell count or type. “For these cows we are prepared to accept a small compromise in profit to improve specific traits. That’s where the Health Weighted Index and the Type Weighted Index will be useful to us,” she said.
Industry wide gains
Jo believes the introduction of three indices creates the opportunity to improve genetic gain across the industry. “We now have three very powerful indices, to meet the different breeding priorities of most Australian dairy farmers. "As farmers, AB companies and resellers all start using these indices, there will be less confusion, allowing farmers to consistently choose sires aligned to their breeding priority. Over time that will achieve better genetic gain across the national herd,” she said.
For more information contact Peter Williams at DataGene ph (03) 9032 7191 or email