With a herd of about 1200 dairy cows Elaine Haddon has a lot of data. She recently discovered the Genetic Progress Report is a useful tool to guide sire selection decisions and for tracking changes in the herd’s genetic merit over the years.
Elaine, and her husband Neville, dairy at Sabina River near Busselton in Western Australia with their son Garry and his partner Tiffany Jones. They received a report on their herd when attending a recent workshop run by ADHIS with support from DAFWA and Western Dairy.
Mrs Haddon looks after the farm records and says a challenge with a large herd is finding a way to use data to make better decisions.
“Between milk recording and our on farm PC system we have a lot of herd data but it’s not always easy to make sense of it. It can be hard to see the wood for the trees,” Mrs Haddon said.
When it comes to genetics, Mrs Haddon has found the Genetic Progress Report presents the herd’s data in a way that she can track changes over time and compare the herd to industry standards.
Mrs Haddon said selection decisions in the past had placed high priority on profit and type.
“Our first report confirmed that we have made very good progress with type, and it highlighted some strengths in the herd that we hadn’t noticed, such as longevity and fertility. But we were disappointed in our genetic progress for Australian Profit Ranking,” she said.
While the herd has made steady gains in APR over the past 10 years, it is tracking just below the national average.
Some of that may be due to missing data: the Haddons purchased a significant number of cows in recent years and some of these are missing their sire and dam information. Animals with missing sire information won’t get an ABV and therefore won’t be recorded in the report. Also, the Haddon’s have previously waited until heifers calved before entering them into the milk recording system.
“I’m keen to start entering that data when they are calves because it will make our Genetic Progress Report more useful to see trends among the youngest animals in our herd.”
Once the data is more complete and up to date, Mrs Haddon will closely examine the herd’s genetic progress for profit, mastitis and protein. These are the traits she has identified on the current report that could be improved.
“We are a commercial operation but I’ve always placed a high priority on type because it affects profitability. Sometimes our cows walk up to 3km a day so we look at feet and legs and also udders when selecting sires to use over the herd. And of course we also look at their APR,” she said.
“Our report confirms that our selection decisions have achieved significant gains in type. But it also highlighted the traits that we will concentrate on more in the future – protein percent and mastitis. That’s the beauty about the report – because it’s based on our own herd so it’s a good tool for guiding decision making.”
Mrs Haddon has already started getting more data into the milk recording system so that it will be incorporated into future the Genetic Progress Reports.
“I’ll be reviewing future reports with great interest. As well as guiding our selecting decisions we’ll be able to see – over time - the effect of those decisions on the herd’s genetic merit.”
Genetic Progress Reports are available through your local herdtest centre. If you’d like to learn more about what your herd’s Genetic Progress Report means, ADHIS is running workshops and attending many field days dairying areas.
For details on the next event near you, to request an event for your group, contact Michelle Axford, ADHIS Extension and Education Manager, ph 0427 573 330 email firstname.lastname@example.org.