Making informed, and progressive breeding decisions is a vital part of Devon producer’s business strategy. Westcott Farm have implemented a strategic approach to driving efficiencies and profitability by using the most advanced sexed semen high quality beef semen and genomically testing females.
Fifth generation Arla farmer Darren Furse and wife Claire manage a herd of 320 Pedigree Holstein- Friesians on 400 acres of land in Holsworthy, Devon, in partnership with parents Nigel and June. The farm runs an all-year round calving system with cows yielding a 9,800-litre average at 4.2% Butterfat and 3.5% Protein.
Darren has increased the genetic merit of his herd through working alongside Cogent’s Genetics Consultant David Willcox to develop an effective breeding programme. All breeding decisions are made with the aim to produce a productive, uniform and fertile cow to suit the system. “The breeding strategy at Westcott farm for the last 10yrs has been to use sires with good components and strength. With Cogent’s PrecisionMATCH mating programme being used to score cows on individual traits, match corrective linear and avoid in-breeding or the introduction of recessive genes. The Westcott herd now averages exceptional components plus improved overall Type. A combined weight of Fat and Protein plus improving health traits is now the focus using high CCI (Cogent Custom Index) SexedULTRA 4M sires on the top 35% of the herd, and Aberdeen Angus semen on the remainder. PrecisionMAP has been used to provide these results.” explains David.
CONFIDENCE IN SEXED SEMEN
With the fate of bull calves having been at the centre of the debate on welfare, Arla’s farmer owners are now looking to drive up standards as they look to respond to consumer demand and secure their supply chain for the future.
To reduce the amount of bull calves born, Darren has implemented the use of sexed semen. He had dabbled with sexed semen in the past and received mixed results. However, with the introduction of an activity system for heat detection enabling him to make more informed decisions on the best time to inseminate, and farm results from Cogent showing that their SexedULTRA 4M product could achieve conception rates similar to conventional semen, he believed it was a no brainer.
Mr Furse is now able to produce enough female dairy replacements from his top genetics whilst crossing the remainder of his herd with quality Aberdeen-Angus beef to ensure a higher value calf at the end. “Achieving good conception rates on our heifers, allows us to serve more cows to beef. The extra value of our beef calf crop more than pays for the increase in sexed semen cost” explains Darren.
Five genomic sexed semen sires from Cogent are currently being used. These include Edg Delta-B52, Mr Rubi-Agronaut, ST Gen Director Chairman, NH Sunview Fantastic and T-Gen-AC Jedi Yager.
MAXIMISING PROFIT PER PREGNANCY
Raising a male calf that will not have the opportunity to enter the dairy herd or go on to be a productive beef animal, is inefficient.
Improving the quality of beef calves has brought economic benefits to Westcott Farm, with a beef-cross calf being worth up to £150 more than a dairy bred bull from the same cow.
“We have previously used British Blue, however this year we are using Aberdeen Angus for easier calving and the reduced impact on the cow in terms of milk loss and reduced fertility. Our cows and heifers are the core of the business, so it is important to look after them.” says Darren.
Aberdeen Angus sires used this year include Thrunton Picador and Linton Gilbertines Dubliner.
UNLOCKING THE HERD’S GENETIC POTENTIAL
Using genomics, a heifer’s genetic potential is revealed early in life, genetic progress can be accelerated with confidence and herd profitability is enhanced by capitalising on improved performance across a number of traits. Genomic testing is something Darren has been doing for the last 12-months and has tested almost 150 heifers, with the aim to use genomics to identify the genetically superior females to enter the herd in order to ensure he is continuously driving genetic gain. “Genomics has enabled us to determine which animals to serve to sexed semen, when previously it was easy to put the bull in with the heifers and get them to do all the work.” says Darren.
The genomic results are interpreted through PrecisionDNA, an easy to understand DNA portal, which allows for herd selection and de-selection based on individual farm benchmarking and breeding objectives.
PrecisionMAP, a customised herd genetic auditing tool which identifies genetic trends and allows selection of the best genetics relative to the farm specific milk contract, allowed Mr Furse to implement a dedicated sexed and beef on dairy breeding strategy maximising profit per each pregnancy. Darren uses the tool to select high-ranking females to breed replacements from whilst breeding the genetically inferior females to high reliability, quality Aberdeen Angus beef semen. Progeny from these replacements will then be genomically tested in order to continuously focus on genetic gain through the generations to come.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Over the next 10 years, Westcott Farm is looking to increase herd numbers with the use of sexed semen whilst making continued investment into the business.
“As we increase our herd, we want to become more and more productive as well as resilient. Genomic testing is a game changer for the industry and breeding from your best genetics is vital.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Combining genomic testing with sexed semen can lead to nearly a five-fold increase in genetic progress.
UNLOCK THE GENETIC POTENTIAL OF YOUR HERD TODAY.
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