LIC Ireland’s genetics development manager talks about his recent trip to NZ, where he worked closely with LIC’s sire selection team during their busy bull buying period. The objective being to bring back important insights to Irish farmers and LIC’s Irish bull breeding programme.
As I sit here now, on a cold January evening writing this, it brings back memories of the warmer time I spent in New Zealand over the last 3 months. During this time, working closely with LIC’s sire selection team during their busy bull buying period, I was privileged enough to be involved in visiting and inspecting some of the top herds and cows in New Zealand.
I began my first week going through the background and logistics of LIC’s European stud, based in Awahuri, Manawatu, and the rostering of bulls we select for the European market. This also involved a visit to Awahuri, five hours south of head office, to spend some time going through the strict EU regulations, meeting the farm staff and watching the whole process all the way through to straw production.
After this I joined the sire selection team for an 8-week period. Firstly I spent time out on-farm viewing contract mating first calvers for TOP inspections, namely visiting the Tironui herd, breeders of Superman & Montage and the Maharee herd, breeder of Maharee AZ Orsim.
After this week, we received our genomic bull file containing the 1600 bull calves we would thoroughly sieve through for the next two weeks, before finally whittling it down to our final 235 bull calves. Made up of 100 Holstein Friesian, 45 Jersey and 90 KiwiCross® bulls.
After this I hit the road with the team for dam and bull calf inspections, ensuring all bull calves made the grade from a physical perspective and learning how to TOP inspect bull dams. During this time, I would have travelled the length and breadth of both islands. This included visiting the Williams Jersey herd in Northland, down to the Glenui Jersey herd in Taranaki, the Arkans stud in Otorohanga and the Julian herd outside Taupo.
The following week Adrian Young and I headed down south for the week, where we travelled over 1300 km from Oamaru all the way north to Nelson, in order to carry out all our bull and dam inspections. Again, visiting numerous renowned herds such as Lynbrook Jerseys, Hawthorn Grove Jerseys, Tronocco Friesian stud & the Baldrick herd. Having all bred bulls that are available in Ireland such as Kartell, Shakir & Touchdown.
So, what are my takeaways from my time in NZ?
The Jersey breed in my opinion has never been in such a strong position in New Zealand as it is now. The majority of cows had excellent capacity as well as strong udder ligaments and production to match. A large number of the 18 code bulls proved very well last year and entered the Premier SiresTM team, while three more proven 19 code bulls were added to the team this year on top of the excellent genomic sires coming through the pipeline. It is a real testament to the work the Jersey breeders have done over the last 6 to 7 years.
With potential cow numbers dropping in both Ireland and New Zealand, there is a general acceptance that more will be asked of the cow in order to maintain production. And none more so than the Holstein Friesian. During my time there it was evident in the work being done within the Friesian breed that the focus is to achieve production capacity goals while also maintaining fertility. Alongside this the cow has to have the udder and ligament strength to maintain this production over her lifetime.
The KiwiCross® bulls as a team seem to be going from strength-to-strength, year on year. With the rise of Premonition in 2022 and now the rise of Flash-Gordon in 2023, who knows where 2024 will take us. In all aspects these bulls keep breaking the mould, from Premonition hitting the Jersey-like 6% fat to Flash-Gordon pushing production over 100kg milksolids. With a few excellent genomic bulls coming through such as Hackers Advantage and Julian Tu-Meke, it’s assuring to see the KiwiCross® sector is in an extremely strong place going forward.
On a final note, my time in New Zealand also gave me confidence in the Single Step Animal Model (SSAM) in correctly selecting the bulls for the next generation. An example of bulls that had high gBW as both genomic and now proven include both Premonition and Equator to name two, with many more hitting similar levels.
From this you will see some genomic bulls mixed in with our daughter proven bulls in our catalogues going forward. These bulls will be selected based on their gBW but with massive emphasis placed on their background pedigree.