Genetic Progress Report: A joint perspective (Bettina and John McLeod, Nov 2013)

Bettina and John McLeod’s herd ranks number 155 for profit among Australian herd-tested Holsteins. It also ranks well above the national average for type, milkfat and protein.
But the McLeods don’t spend hours studying bull catalogues. Their achievement of a high genetic merit herd has come through a successful partnership with their breeding advisor, Graham Heaver over the past 15 years.
The McLeods dairy at Grasmere West, near Warnambool Victoria, with help from a full time employee and John’s parents, Neil and Penny. Their 350-400 cow herd is milked three times a day, averaging 11,200 L/cow and 770kg milk solids/cow (306-day lactation) and achieving a conception rate of 78.5% over a 10 week joining period.
A couple of times a year Mrs McLeod and Mr Heaver discuss the herd’s breeding objective, progress towards that objective, and specific priorities for the coming joining season. Mrs McLeod trusts Mr Heaver’s bull selections, and her meticulous record keeping allows them to keep a close eye on the results. This year they have been able to use the herd’s Genetic Progress Report to monitor long term trends and the impact of specific decisions.
“Graham understands what we want to achieve – improvements in the herd’s genetic merit for profitability and calving ease – and within that brief, I leave it to him to choose the individual sires we use each joining. We have always been happy with the progress we’ve made and our Genetic Progress Report confirms we are heading in the direction we want to go,” Mrs McLeod said.
Mr Heaver selects sires from the Good Bulls Guide, focussing on profitability - the Australian Profit Ranking (APR), based on domestic ABVs or overseas proofs – ABV(i)s.
“About 30% of sires are high genomic bulls as we see this as the next big step in genetic progress,” Mr Heaver said.
“Within those top APR sires we look to improve specific traits in the herd. Initially we looked at pins, but now that we’ve eliminated high pins, it’s no longer a priority. All the bulls in the top for APR are pretty good for overall type so we don’t look at that specifically. We look at components, mastitis, teat length, rump and calving ease.”
The Genetic Progress Report has been useful in fine tuning the McLeod’s selection criteria.
“The report highlighted how much progress has been made for mastitis resistance in recent years; and as a result Bettina and I decided to place higher priority on selecting for fertility within the top sires,” Mr Heaver said.
Mrs McLeod finds the Genetic Progress Report particularly useful for identifying and learning from past mistakes.
“When I look at the graphs, I’m interested to see the dips – because they show where we made a mistake.”
For example in 2006, when Graham was overseas on study leave, another breeding advisor chose the sires, purely for type without consideration of other traits. While the report shows a subsequent peak in genetic progress for type, it was accompanied by dips in profit, fat, protein, fertility, and longevity.
“We now select our bulls well in advance, while we both have plenty of time – the herd was already above average for type and those high type bulls involved too much compromise in other traits that are more important to us.” she said.
The McLeod’s current Genetic Progress Report includes the herd’s 2013 calves, giving her the most up-to-date report possible.
“Calving is such a busy time and it is easy to forget or confuse some details. I keep two sets of paper records during calving and enter the information in our herd management software within a few weeks. If there’s any doubt about parentage, I’ll send a sample off for genotyping.”
Mrs McLeod is keen to be continually improving their dairy operation and uses the Genetic Progress Report as a tool for monitoring breeding progress.
“The Genetic Progress presents our data in graphs that make it easy to see long term trends,” she said.
To access your herds Genetic Progress Report contact your Herd Recording Centre.
 For more information contact Peter Williams at DataGene ph 03 9032 7191 or email