By Lee-Ann Monks
Western Australian dairyfarmer, Ray Kitchen, can’t wait to see the rankings for bulls based on the Balanced Performance Index (BPI) when they are released in April. Ray dairies near Bunbury with his wife Donna, and his brother Mal and Mal’s wife Lesley. Their 400-cow herd currently averages about 10,000 L/cow/year and ranks number two in the country for profit. The Kitchens regularly sell bulls locally and to AB companies.
Their breeding priorities have been influenced by customer feedback as well as their own focus. “We are looking for bulls that will produce daughters that are profitable and easy care. We want to make as much genetic gain in production, health and those type traits that influence longevity in our environment,” said Ray.
“I’m really looking forward to using the Balanced Performance Index. It is primarily an economic index, designed to help us improve profit through production but it also allows for traits that affect functionality in the herd and longevity – for example cell count, fertility and udder conformation."
In the past Ray used the Australian Profit Ranking (APR) but he is confident that the BPI will provide a better selection for genetic gain on functional traits. “We have a high production herd so longevity and functional traits are very important. I am happy with the balance of these traits in the BPI. It’s good to see that breeding indexes are progressing to meet farmers’ evolving needs,” he said.
Ray plans to start with the BPI list to choose about 12 sires to use over the herd for the year. He uses the Good Bulls Guide in both formats – the booklet that arrives in the mail and the electronic format that he downloads from the ADHIS website. “I’ll create a short list of bulls from the BPI list and then look more closely at their ABVs for specific traits such as fertility, udders and feet and legs. “Even though most of these traits are in the BPI, I’ll take a closer look at their ABVs. Bulls that are unfavourable for these traits will be knocked off my short list. Our cows walk long distances in the winter to graze so they need sound feet and legs for a long, productive life in our herd. In the same way, fertility, mastitis resistance and udder functionality affect longevity in our herd.”
When selecting sires, Ray believes it is very important to look at their genomic and progeny proven breeding indexes based on performance under Australian conditions. “Our production system and our environment have a big impact on the performance of bulls’ daughters. It’s absolutely essential to breed cows better suited to our farming conditions and milk payment system and using Australian indexes is the best way to achieve that.”
Ray has welcomed the move to provide farmers with three indexes: BPI, the Health Weighted Index (HWI) and the Type Weighted Index (TWI). “Having three indexes gives Australian dairyfarmers the ability to choose the index that best matches our individual breeding priorities. For farmers keen to improve the functionality of their herds, the Health Weighted Index gives them the opportunity to make better gains in their priority traits with a small compromise in profit gains. Likewise the Type Weighted Index will suit farmers focussed on conformation,” Ray said.