Breeding strategies play a pivotal role in enhancing the desirable traits of a dairy herd to improve overall productivity and profitability. While the impact of genetic improvements is gradual, ultimately it can play an instrumental role in shaping the performance of a dairy farm.
Technology for sorting semen into X (female) and Y (male) sperm fractions is under continual development. The industry has access to semen straws containing mostly female (90%+ purity) sperm. Successfully using sexed semen within an artificial insemination program requires:
- High cow fertility – do not use sexed semen in females with compromised fertility (e.g., underweight heifers, late-calving cows, cows with a history of disease at calving time).
- Proper semen handling.
- Good artificial insemination technique and timing based on accurate heat detection or planned mating time using a synchrony program.
Consider using genomic testing to select the most desirable females for insemination with sexed semen. Using sexed semen within an artificial insemination program offers potential advantages and some challenges. Dairy farmers are encouraged to obtain up-to-date information on expected conception rate performance and which animals may be suited to sexed semen before committing to use it.
Many farmers believe crossbreeding is a fast-track solution to improving fertility and longevity in herds. However, the establishment of a crossbreeding program is a serious, long-term commitment requiring the selection of specific breeds as well as a type of crossbreeding system to suit the individual.
Successful cross breeding requires using sires with high genetic merit and careful record keeping and planning, especially if maintaining a rotational crossbreeding program, using three or more breeds. The 2017 study of crossbreeding in Australian dairy herds found:
- Two-breed (Jersey-Holstein Friesian) crossbred cows performed better than the purebred cows for components (fat, protein per cent and fat per cent) but worse for milk volume and protein.
- Two-breed crossbred cows survived longer and got in calf quicker than purebred cows.
- Three-breed crossbred cows (Aussie Red x Jersey-Holstein Friesian) outperformed the backcross (Holstein Friesian x Jersey-Holstein Friesian or Jersey x Jersey-Holstein Friesian) for almost all aspects.
- The order of three-breed cross breeding may not matter.
Dairy beef opportunities
When considering adopting a beef on dairy crossbreeding program, there are several important factors to keep in mind. This includes what beef genetics to use, how the calves will be managed pre and post weaning, where the animals will be sold and market demand for these animals.
In general, dairy breeds such as Holsteins and Jerseys rate quite highly in meat quality aspects such as taste, marbling, and tenderness, but tend to underperform in carcase conformation and yield. Successfully using a beef on dairy program requires:
- Prioritising fertility when selecting beef sires.
- Estimated Breeding Values for calving ease should always be prioritised when selecting beef sires.
- Selection of beef sires for shorter gestation lengths can help cows calve earlier.
- Using sires that improve the carcase conformation and yield of crossbred calves.