Consistent genetics in the dairy herd

20-01-2022 | |
Boomer Birch, Cogent’s beef programme manager. Photo: Cogent
Boomer Birch, Cogent’s beef programme manager. Photo: Cogent

Around half of the beef animals produced in the UK come from dairy herds and that figure is expected to increase over the next 5 years.

With this in mind, UK genetics company, Cogent, is strengthening its beef programme to offer dairy farmers more guidance on beef sires to cross with their dairy herds. Such efforts can help improve the efficiency in the dairy-cross-beef sector and provide greater consistency for the whole supply chain generating benefits to both dairy and beef farmers.

Over the past 3 years, Cogent has been working to strengthen its beef breeding programme to help guide producers on breeding decisions which are likely to be more beneficial for the dairy-cross-beef market.

Consistent genetics in the dairy herd

The programme partners with nucleus herds to develop reputable and bespoke genetics for each sire breed. By working with these herds, Cogent ensures consistent and desired sire lines whose marketable traits flow through to the cross-bred calf.

Boomer Birch, Cogent’s beef programme manager, says: “The Cogent beef programme is designed to address the ever-increasing demand of using beef semen in the dairy herd, highlighting the importance of providing consistent genetics that are repeatable.”

Within the breeding programme, bulls are bred for dairy industry-desired traits such as conception rate, calving ease and gestation length.

Better calving

Long-standing data collection with over 318,000 data points, increasing on a bi-weekly basis, has enabled Cogent to monitor both the bull and its progeny’s performance before making the semen commercially available. Bulls from the breeding programme boast an average gestation length of 280 days and a calving ease of 97.9%, indicating that, on average, less than 3% of calvings will be difficult, or will require moderate assistance.

Calf quality varies across the breeds with the British Blue the highest quality at 91%, closely followed by the Aberdeen Angus at 88%. Quality is determined by Cogent’s unique scoring system based on the conformation and fleshing ability of the calf, defining the differences between continental and native cross-bred progeny.

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Birch adds: “The figures are calculated on each individual beef sire and are indicative of the benefits that the sire can contribute to the next generation when used in a dairy herd. By publishing these figures, we provide the farmer with a monetary value that can be used to foresee the benefits of using such genetics within their enterprise.

The main goal of the programme, says Birch, is to ensure selection of bulls that can perform in any system. “To ensure this, we have partnered with some of the most forward-thinking, progressive beef herds in the UK to develop bloodlines which produce repeatable genetics, from calving ease right through to carcase quality.”

“Having this relationship with our breeders allows us to fulfil the requirements of the whole supply chain, and by utilising advanced breeding technologies, Cogent can create multiple pregnancies from programme-leading males and females to ensure they are bringing the correct genetics into the stud,” he says.

Specific bulls originating from the breeding programme are currently averaging 512 days to slaughter, coupled with over 87.4% of progeny achieving a 4L fat grade and below. Conformation is also looking attractive, with 97% of slaughtered progeny hitting a 0+ grade or higher. High carcass dead weight coincides with exceptional kill out percentages, which are consistently averaging above 51.7%.

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Good cow breeding programme

Birch says: “So, for the dairy farmer that needs calves which are easily born, but of high quality, the grower who is looking for efficient, fast daily liveweight gain, the finisher who wants animals that lay down the correct ratios of muscle and fat, and finish quickly, and the processor who wants a carcass that consistently fits the spec with minimal waste, the improved Cogent beef programme can provide a solution.”

The top 11 Aberdeen Angus bulls for intramuscular fat within the breed society register have been bred and developed by Cogent as a result of the strengthened beef programme, providing excellent eating quality, and ticking boxes for the retailer and consumer.

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Chris Mccullough Freelance multi-media journalist