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CLIENT NEWS: Farmer calls on others to do progeny testing to boost national herd

Dairy farmer Mike Tillemans is calling on others to get involved in progeny testing, not only to benefit their own farm business, but to benefit the national herd.

Tillemans is a farm owner from Atiamuri, between Taupo and Tokoroa. He milks 450 cows at the peak of the season, on his 150ha dairy farm.

Tillemans has been part of CRV Ambreed’s sire-proving programme known as the Progeny Test Programme for about eight years and says it’s put him at an advantage when it comes to achieving the best herd possible.

Progeny testing involves using semen from carefully selected unproven but high-quality bulls for Artificial Insemination.  Through herd testing and herd recording, CRV Ambreed can determine the bull’s genetic traits and advantages – while also improving the value of farmer’s own herd.

“I would recommend the CRV Ambreed Progeny Test Programme to other farmers because you can see the next generation of bulls coming through before anyone else,” says Tillemans. “It would be great for more dairy farmers to do it, because the more people involved, the more reliable the bulls will be,” says Tillemans.

Tillemans says having access to some of the best dairy genetics in the country is one the most appealing reasons to take part in the PT programme. “We have benefitted from having access to top quality bulls. We haven’t had a dud heifer yet since we’ve started.”

Farmers participating in the programme have access to semen from some of the best unproven bulls in the country, selected by the CRV Ambreed breeding team using genomic selection and their knowledge of the cows and their parentage.

In the more than 30 years the programme has been running, CRV Ambreed has put more than 3000 young bulls through the programme. From this, more than 350 bulls have graduated to become influential sires in the New Zealand dairy industry, producing more than 1.5 million herd-tested daughters, says Aaron Parker, CRV Ambreed’s Breeding Programme Manager.

Semen is provided at a discounted rate. On top of that farmers benefit through increased insights into their herd’s genetic performance, consistent genetic gain and the knowledge they are contributing to the improvement of the national herd.

Tillemans feels confident in the quality of the unproven bulls in the programme. “It’s not a risk at all. These heifers coming through CRV Ambreed’s programme are fantastic.”

Farmers in the programme are required to keep careful records of the daughters for four years, tracking them through to their first calving and first year in the milking shed. The additional work for “is no problem”, says Tillemans. “Your record-keeping has to be pretty good, and you have to do a minimum of four herd tests a year, but that is no big deal.”

He also does the Farmer Opinion scoring, and says it’s a breeze. “I am in the cow shed so it’s not difficult at all.”

Through record-keeping and genomic genetic analysis CRV Ambreed is able to determine the genetic traits each bull offers. The top performing bulls graduate as ‘proven bulls’ and contribute their genetics to dairy farms locally and internationally.

Tillemans also sharemilks 280 Jersey cows at a farm at Tokoroa, and has another dairy farm at Matamata. He’s been progeny testing at the Tokoroa farm for two years – with the first group of heifers to be calved next season.

“As a sharemilker, your investment is in your herd as you don’t own the land. So the higher you’re herd’s breeding worth (BW) the more value there is in your herd. But the way I look at it now, progeny testing is a better way of measuring value,” says Tillemans.

Tillemans is pleased he is able to contribute to the improvement of the national dairy herd. “It’s about having the next generation of bulls coming through the system, and having access to them before they are proven and on the market,” says Tillemans.

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