Are you a step ahead with your breeding goals

By Kristen Davis, GippsDairy

Dairy cattle breeding has come a long way in recent times. With the use of tactical breeding programs, you can now breed replacements from your highest genetic merit animals while also producing a highly saleable and marketable dairy beef product from your less superior animals.

The importance of social license to operate is growing in significance within our changing global markets and consumer demands. Will and Sarah Jelbart are at the forefront of this in their dairy operation, by making the conscious decision to remove conventional dairy semen from their breeding program and become bobby calf free.

The Jelbart family run 520 Holstein cows on a milking platform of 278ha in Woodleigh, South Gippsland. Growing up on a dairy, Will always had the perspective that there had to be a better way when it comes to bobby calf management.

The evolution of the industry bringing the availability of sexed and dairy beef semen into dairy breeding programs has allowed for the decline and potential elimination of bobby calf production. “It’s a shame for the calf to go as a waste product when it could have a good future and grow out, the
combination of sexed and beef semen allows us to achieve that,” Will said.

He also recognises the opportunity for improving the agricultural carbon footprint through the production of dairy beef, helping to mitigate the environmental impact associated with beef production. The reduction in emission is notably due to the distribution between products. Production systems are greater in dairy compared to specialised beef production.

Not only is the Jelbart family consciously improving both social and environmental factors, but their business has also benefited from the change. “The introduction of beef and dairy has opened up a lot more opportunities for us and our business,” Will said.

There are a number of ways to utilise sexed and beef semen to diversify your business. “You can even use excess sexed semen to produce heifers for the export market,” Sarah said. Varying options enable you to maximise profits from your entire calf crop. In early 2019, Will and Sarah purchased the Allflex SCR Heatime collar system for their herd, which has helped improve breeding decisions and streamlined the implementation of herd segmentation into their herd.

Their choice to implement the technology was easy. “For me, using the collars allows for a better work life balance,” Sarah said. “We don’t live on site, and I prefer to leave heat detection to myself allowing for the best accuracy.” The installation of collars has allowed Sarah to achieve high reproductive results whilst maintaining a family lifestyle. With the addition of an automatic draft gate, it has removed the stress from joining, as milkers are not required to identify and draft cows on heat, allowing them to focus on other management practices within the dairy. “It didn’t take long for me to develop trust in the collars for heat detection,” she said. “AI straws are not being wasted on cows that are not actually on heat.” As a result their straw use efficiency identification improved.

The SCR system makes this easy through the availability of the heat index. This is particularly helpful when deciding on the use of sexed semen. “Cows have to be 15 hours or less until ovulation or they don’t receive sexed semen,” Sarah said.

This enabled them to achieve a 3-week submission rate of 89% with 98% of the herd being submitted by the end of their AI period (5.5 weeks), and a conception rate to first service at 59.5% during their 2020 Spring joining. The evaluation of average inseminations per pregnancy saw 1.7 for firsts lactation cows and 1.4 for those in their second lactation and above.

When it comes to choosing whether animals are joined to sexed or beef semen, Sarah is highly selective to ensure the success of her mating program. “All animals must be around 40 days in milk, with no post calving issues and no health problems in the previous 6 weeks,” she said. Genetically, Sarah looks at both the PI (Production Index) and BPI of each animal to ensure sex semen is being used in those more genetically superior, and beef in those with lower genetic merit. “We want to breed a cow that fits our system,” she said. “We’re breeding cows that thrive in a system that is pasture based, predominantly spring calving, with smaller stature and legs that are able to cope on hills.”

Through the utilisation of sexed and beef semen in their breeding program, it allows for the acceleration of genetic progress. Replacements are only bred from their best animals that they know are going to last in their herd. AI is conducted in the morning and afternoon when utilising sexed semen in order to optimise the breeding window and enhance conception success.

Prior to AI Sarah evaluates each cow. “They each get analysed on the collar system to identify heat strength, Easy Dairy for health events and then a Genescreen for most idyllic mating,” she said. The use of technology and modern breeding decisions within the Jelbart herd has allowed them to be a step ahead, all the while fast-tracking genetic gain within their herd. Not only are they diversifying their business and allowing for additional revenue streams through the use of dairy beef semen, but they’re also at the forefront of changing social demands and ensuring their social license to operate remains strong into the future.

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