Breeding company CRV Ambreed is now providing dairy farmers with a holistic approach to building their herds through a new style of index for sire selection.
The company is responding to the changing needs of New Zealand’s dairy industry.
The Better Life Health Index and Better Life Efficiency Index rank bulls so farmers can easily and quickly choose those sires that will produce the most healthy and efficient herds for them.
The health and efficiency index is being discussed with farmers at nationwide roadshows in March and April and will feature in the company’s annual catalogue of bulls.
CRV Ambreed Managing Director Angus Haslett says there’s been a focus for many years on the traditional traits of cows such as solids, longevity, live-weight. But there’s been a significant swing in recent times towards farmers wanting to breed healthy cows that are resilient and easy to manage.
He says gauging the health traits of bulls has been part of CRV Ambreed’s philosophy for many years. “We know our farmers have been focused on healthy cows for some time - not just on production rates alone - and so this is really in response to their needs and formalising an approach we’ve taken for a long time.”
Haslett says the index will help these farmers choose the best sires for AI on their herds. “The Better Life Health Index focuses on all those areas that help create a robust cow that farmers enjoy having in their herds, such as great udders, fertility, easy calvings and great temperaments.” The index also focuses on Somatic Cell Count, longevity, overall opinion and more.
Haslett says New Zealand farmers are trying to do more with less, and using the Better Life Health and Efficiency Index, particularly, will help shift the dial, ensuring farmers are continually breeding better cows for the New Zealand environment. “The New Zealand dairy industry, and individual farmers, are feeling the pressure from a variety of areas. There are many aspects of farming that we can’t control, such as the weather, but we can be strategic about the make-up of our herds in New Zealand and we can use genetics wisely, to improve welfare and increase the sustainability of the New Zealand herd.”
When the Breeding Worth index was introduced in New Zealand in the mid-90s, it was well ahead of its time, he says. “But we’ve not moved on from that in recent years, and efficiency indexes – while great for measuring output – aren’t enough of a solution for New Zealand any more.”
CRV Ambreed tested the index on the performance records from more than 300,000 cows it has herd-tested since 2010. The performance of the best 25% for health and efficiency was compared to the lowest 25% by breed. “That data showed a remarkable difference exists between these groups and shows that you can achieve big improvements in a herd by selecting sires based on the health and efficiency index,” Haslett says.
He says showcasing this index to farmers will help them look at genetics in a different way. “It’s not the only genetics tool, it’s a way to assess what the CRV bulls can offer via genetics. As a forward-thinking company, we want to help farmers easily choose bulls who will produce problem-free daughters and that means presenting valuable information to them in an easy-to-read manner.”
Feedback from CRV Ambreed clients shows breeding healthy cows is a top priority. “We believe in ‘better cows, better life’ – the welfare of the cows feeds into the welfare of our farmers.
“These indexes capture the traits that are essential for health and management, and we know there’s a really good correlation between health and efficiency. Healthy cows will produce well and have a better life,’ Haslett says.
He hopes the industry will welcome the holistic approach, given the changing times dairying is facing – it is no longer in a growth phase and is trying to be as sustainable as possible. “This is about being responsive to the needs of New Zealand farmers, and the industry, and being responsible in sharing it with the country.”
CRV Ambreed is running a series of roadshows throughout the country in March and April called the Better Cows Tour, at which field consultants and CRV’s breeding team will discuss the new indexes with farmers. To see the venues and dates and to register, visit crv4all.co.nz/bettercowstour
CRV Ambreed is already known for its team of bulls that are helping breed higher tolerance to Facial Eczema and has also launched homozygous polled bulls, whose progeny do not require time-consuming and costly dis-budding.
The firm hit the headlines in 2017 with the announcement of a team of bulls whose daughters will pee out less nitrogen. The company estimates dairy farmers could saving 10 million kilograms in nitrogen leaching a year -based on the national herd number of 6.5 million dairy cattle.
The announcement is now the subject of a $21 million research project, led by Dairy NZ, that will involve thousands of cows on farms around the country to test the effectiveness of breeding and measure the reduction of nitrogen leaching expected through genetic selection – potentially up to a 20% reduction.