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Genetic Progress Report case study: Sophie Hester, Writhgil


Sophie Hester was pleasantly surprised when she saw the first Genetic Progress Report for her herd.

Sophie and her brother, Alistair Harris, help run their parent’s, Phillip and Kate Harris’, property, Writhgil, at Larpent, Western Victoria, milking 550-600 cows depending on the season.

The herd, which she describes as ‘commercial Holsteins, with a pinch of cross-breds’, averages about 9000L/year from a predominantly pasture feedbase.

A self-confessed ‘cow-person’ Sophie manages the herd and the breeding program.

Each season Sophie uses up to 25% progeny test sires as well as six or seven proven bulls.

“In the long term we are aiming to improve overall type but particularly rumps, udders, longevity, feet and legs. Our cows do a lot of walking – the furthest paddock is 1 km each way – so they need good feet and legs. I visited America recently and noticed how little walking their cows do, so it is definitely something to look for in the bulls we choose,” Sophie said.

Sophie was pleasantly surprised by the results in the herd’s Genetic Progress Report. It showed steady improvement for all traits over the past 10 years, with the herd tracking on or above the national average for all seven traits. Strong gains in genetic merit for profit (APR) have been seen in recent years.

This is hardly surprising: her Genetic Progress Report shows that 87% of cows born in 2010 were from bulls listed in the Good Bulls Guide or progeny test. So, even with a focus on type, all bulls used ranked well for Australian Profit Ranking.

The Good Bulls Guide ranks bulls on profit (APR) and then re-ranks bulls on key breeding objectives. This means bulls can be selected for a particular breeding objective, without compromising profitability.

“Our Genetic Progress Report was a bit of an eye opener; to see just how much progress we’ve made. It confirmed that our approach in selecting for type, has also achieved steady progress for other traits, especially profit and longevity.”

She was particularly pleased with the herd’s genetic progress for fertility. Since 2004, the herd’s genetic progress for fertility has steadily improved and is now sitting above the national average (see graph).

Michelle Axford from ADHIS said “This is no easy feat and it shows Sophie’s long term commitment to fertility.”

Sophie said she had looked at daughter fertility when selecting bulls for the past couple of years.

“It’s in our top four or five priorities. And it’s pleasing to see that has made a difference,” she said.

The herd’s graph for mastitis also shows strong improvement in the past few years.

“The mastitis improvement was a surprise because we haven’t paid a lot of attention to mastitis when selecting bulls. Now that I’ve seen the graph, I will probably pay a bit more attention to that in the future.”

Sophie was interested to see the year to year fluctuations in the herd’s graphs for fat and protein production. She puts the variation in fat and protein down to using certain bulls that rated very highly for type but were negative for components.

“Now that I can see the impact on the herd, I’ll be a more wary of those sorts of ‘risky’ bulls in the future. And once I short list bulls for type, I’ll take a closer look at their ABVs for components.”

Sophie is looking forward to receiving a Genetic Progress Report for the herd each year.

“It is the first time we’ve had a tool to track genetic progress at the herd level. Herd recording gives us lots of information at the cow level, but when you have a big herd it’s good to be able to see the bigger picture.”

“I will be really interested to monitor the impact of our selection decisions from year to year,” she said.

Michelle Axford said that a Genetic Progress Report was derived from herd test data.

“Any farmer who herd records can obtain a Genetic Progress Report from their herd test centre,” said Michelle

“There’s no need to supply extra information. Just request a Genetic Progress Report from your herd test centre,” she said.

For more information contact Michelle Axford, ADHIS Extension and Education Manager, ph 0427 573 330 email maxford@adhis.com.au or www.adhis.com.au