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Winning Game Plan

Delaneys

Sexcel cows

Sexcel™

Andrew Delaney | Breeding the best thanks to genomics and Sexcel

Andrew Delaney isn’t short of replacement heifers. In fact, the Nirranda dairy farmer has enough to satisfy his annual herd intake and plenty leftover to sell to the export market – making the most of recent high prices. But it’s one thing to have quantity and something totally different to combine this with quality. Andrew and Jacqui Delaney have both.

If a trip down the paddock to view their “even” herd of rising two-year-old ABS JERONIMO-P heifers – due to calve in mid-September to FB 53 Kenobi GIANNIS.  – isn’t proof enough, Andrew’s genomic data tells an even more impressive story. In the most recent Australian Breeding Values (ABV) release, in April, the Delaneys not only held the top heifer spot, but they also bred six inside the top 100. These heifers were ranked according to their Balanced Performance Index (BPI) – an economic index which helps Australian dairy farmers independently select sires for their breeding program. The top Australian heifer was sired by the country’s highest ranked Holstein JERONIMO-P and has a BPI$ of 544.

Delaney, ABS Sexcel testimonial

Genomic testing results and the BPI underpin most breeding decisions for the Delaneys and, according to Andrew, the data doesn’t lie. “As soon as I get my genomic numbers back, I work out ‘there’s my good ones and my bad ones’ and ‘there’s my cut off point’,” he said. “I work out my top 40-45 heifers, the ones I want, and then there is a line. Anything below that is gone.” “Even if it looks phenomenal and has a beautiful appearance, it’s got to go,” Jacqui added. Most recently this “line” was a BPI$ of 310. Anything below that number was sold. To put it in perspective, a BPI$ of 310 places the Delaney heifers among the top 2 per cent of females for BPI in Australia.

According to the latest ABV release, the Delaneys’ heifers in the top 100 – including five sired by JERONIMO-P and one by Boghill Glamour PERSUADE – all had a BPI$ of more than 467. Andrew and Jacqui started genomic testing their heifers six years ago. Since then, their average BPI has risen 182 per cent, from 110 to 310 BPI$.

Underlying the Delaneys’ recent herd improvement acceleration has been their focus on selecting young genomic bulls with high BPI rankings and their use of ABS Sexcel® sexed genetics to deliver more heifer calves. The story behind the Delaneys’ high-flying heifers started when a young genomic bull called ABS JERONIMO-P caught Andrew’s attention two years ago. At the time, the bull was fresh from breaking Australian records as the first genomic sire to hit the Australian market with a BPI$ of more than 400. In April 2021, he was labelled Australia’s highest-ranking sire with a BPI$ of 596 and a Health Weighted Index (HWI) score of 602.

ABS Sexcel progeny

For Andrew, the decision to use JERONIMO-P as a Sexcel product made both economic and practical sense. “I was looking for good type, and a sire with a BPI$ of over 480, he also delivered a bit of width in the rear udder – what we were looking for,” he said. One of these heifers, bred because of Andrew’s decisions three years ago, is now Australia’s highest BPI heifer. This heifer’s dam was sired by De-Su 12128 TAILOR and is one of 40 owned by the Delaneys due to be joined this month to Bomaz EPISODE.

Andrew and Jacqui, their children Beau 11, Jacob 8 and Amelia 6, farm with Andrew’s parents Ted and Doreen. Ted and Doreen started using artificial insemination more than 50 years ago. While Andrew is pleased his family has bred the country’s top heifer, he doesn’t focus on individual cows when it comes to herd improvement. Instead, he looks to enhance the whole herd, preferring to lift the average rather than focusing on the odd outlier. To do this he joins all heifers and top genomic cows – those cows with a BPI of more than 240 – to Sexcel semen and chooses about three bulls for each joining.

Two heifers by short gestation sire De-Su 13530 SEVILLE were freshly calved at the Delaneys’ in February. One of these SEVILLEs has a Production Index (PI) of 111, was producing 31.3 litres/day or 2.15kg of milk solids a day. This included 1.13kg of protein and 1.02kg of butterfat.

Outside of their highest-ranking genomic animals, the rest of the milking herd has been joined with conventional semen. But recently Andrew has been weighing up the economics of using ABS Beef InFocus™ dairy-beef semen and making the most of the established supply chain. “To get a couple of hundred bucks for a beef calf that is a few days old, could work,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about rearing them.”

Andrew does all his own AI, having previously worked as a technician, and now he’s witnessing first-hand the fertility improvements in his own herd as a result of selecting young genomic, high BPI sires. One example was during the December joining when he used 50 straws of EPISODE to join the first 50 cows on heat and 38 got in calf. He’s also seen an improvement in the herd’s average bulk milk cell count which, in March, sat at 114,000 cells/ml – despite including 50 “older” cows due to be sold soon.

Sexcel cows

Last year the Delaneys split calving Holstein herd made the most of favourable seasonal conditions, producing an average per cow production of 8100 litres, 289kg of butterfat and 284kg of protein across an average 305 day lactation.

Andrew has always had an interest in genetics and enjoyed searching for the next avenue for herd improvement. He described breeding as his “hobby”, while Jacqui insisted it was his “passion”. “He only competes with himself,” Jacqui said about Andrew’s continual quest for herd improvement. “He does what works for his system, the herd is for his benefit.” “I want good cows to work with,” Andrew added. “After all, I see them every day, I’m milking them every day.”

Ben Clarke

Ben Clarke

Sexcel™

Ben Clarke | Farm purchase the reward for investment in cattle

Breeding extra dairy heifers and capitalising on demand for beef has helped one NSW dairy couple purchase a farm. Young farmers Ben Clarke and Abbey Smeets will make move into farm ownership in November, after leasing a farm at Hannam Vale on the state’s mid-north coast.

Additional income from livestock sales bolstered the milk cheques, from their 300 cow year-round dairy herd. But the impetus for using ABS sexed genetic product Sexcel™ – the key to breeding additional heifers – was never to sell livestock. “I used Sexcel to make sure I had control of my replacements,” Ben said. “Make sure we would have enough numbers. In the past with conventional semen, we had a bit of bad luck getting too many bulls. We use Sexcel now to make sure we maintain replacement numbers every year.”

Ben Clarke

Soon, Ben and Abbey found 120 replacements a year were too many for their business, and they looked elsewhere for markets. “We had our surplus number of heifers out in the central west (NSW) in quarantine for six months, then they went onto the export market,” Ben said. “Also, our Wagyu business allowed us to generate extra income too.”

Using Sexcel to breed additional dairy heifers and Wagyu semen to supply animals to a beef-dairy contract has not only broadened Ben and Abbey’s revenue streams, but it has helped mitigate costs. “Wagyu semen at only $10 a pop brings back the average semen cost to $25-$30 a straw,” Ben said. “Each year we would budget on $40,000 for reproduction and we’d hit that all the time. We don’t do as much budgeting now as the numbers always stack up.”

Better genetic and performing cows tend to be joined to Sexcel, but the health of each animal and the weather conditions also play a role in breeding decisions. “With the cows, I find we get the best (breeding) results from May through to mid-October because up here it can be 30 to 35 degrees (Celsius) at other times and the humidity might be 90 percent,” he said. “During winter what a cow gets joined to, depends on how she calves down. Each year is a different year for each cow. If she has no transition issues, has a good record of getting in calf, she will get Sexcel. The better cows get Sexcel more than other cows.”

During the cooler months, Ben said Sexcel has had the same conception rate as conventional semen in his system. Ben and Abbey’s year-round calving system has an annual pregnancy rate of 20-40 percent. The pregnancy rate is a measurement of how many cows are eligible for joining in 21 days – the heat detection rate – multiplied by the conception rate. It’s a common measurement of reproduction in year-round calving systems and is used extensively in the US.

Ben Clarke with cow

ABS Technical and Genetic Services Representative Matt Aikenhead said Ben and Abbey’s reproduction rates are surpassing expectations within their system and climate. “Summer in a year-round calving herd can be challenging for joining,” he said. “Ben and Abbey’s results have increased in recent years and are exceeding targets set by Dr. Luke Ingenhoff from the University of NSW Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science. These targets reflect what’s expected in these conditions and production systems.”

Ben and Abbey’s dairy heifers are also joined to Sexcel and achieve a conception rate of 50-80 percent, using a 12-day synchronisation CIDR program. Cows that haven’t cycled at 55 days in milk also go into an Ovsynch program. Ben and Abbey’s herd averages 25-26 litres a day with a 3.1 percent protein and 3.8 percent fat.

When it comes to breeding, the couple looks at the Balanced Performance Index (BPI), an economic index blending production, type and health traits for Australian conditions, to make decisions about bulls. They also focus on dairy strength and calving ease. “We keep it pretty simple,” Ben said. “We like a system that’s low maintenance and we select bulls that get cows in calf, that’s how you make money at the end of the day.”

Building herd numbers and making the most of his investment in livestock has underpinned Ben’s farming career. Working in dairy, he’s managed farms and stepped up to run a larger operation when he moved to the mid-north coast of NSW. During this time, he built his herd numbers and leased these animals out of other farmers. His story is a well-trodden path to farm ownership and proves the age-old industry belief that it’s the cows that truly underpin on-farm success.

James Couch

Beef InFocus™

James Couch | Unlocking efficiency with dairy-beef

Improving his dairy herd was the impetus for James Couch to use dairy-beef semen.

For the Nullawarre dairy farmer, it was a simple equation. Joining the bulk of his herd to ABS InFocus™ – semen that includes three proven high fertility Angus bulls – delivered in-calf cows, but more importantly, it helped cut costs. It’s not only cheaper semen compared, to what he’d normally use, but it provides a valuable and saleable animal.

James knew exactly where to spending the savings.

“It meant we could spend an extra $4 to $5 a straw on our Sexcel™ to get the exact bulls that we absolutely wanted,” he said.

“It’s instead of trying to skimp and save a bit of money and hoping for a black and white at the end of the day.

“Now we are going to get the best animal that we can get and for the rest, we are going to have Angus calves hitting the ground that we can make extra money out of.”

James milks about 270 cows, his herd includes Jerseys, Friesians, Ayrshires, and their crosses. Next door his brother Pat has a herd of 290. The two work closely and rear their calves together in southwest Victoria.

Maiden heifers had been calving in mid-April at James’ farm before the herd began calving for six to eight weeks in May.

Seasonal calving works well for the business, but James has plans to move this forward to boost cashflow and better target his use of Sexcel™ to improve genetic gain.

“Using Sexcel™ on heifers, we will plan to join them that extra bit early and eventually calve maiden heifers in January and the remaining cows in April and May,” he said.

“It is changing our cashflow mainly, but it gives us a bit more security calving heifers earlier as we will have certain pregnancies from heifers. Then we will only need to say get an extra 100 cows in calf to Sexcel™. So we can go and buy 200 does of Sexcel™ then the rest of the herd is joined to InFocus™.”

“Then all the replacements come earlier, and it is a lot easier for us (in the calf shed) and we can take our time before the InFocus™ calves come in later.”

Fertility is one of the primary breeding focuses for James because of his seasonal calving system.

No bull is considered if it has low fertility – regardless of its other traits. Other breeding focuses include production, shorter stature, and stronger cows as well as better feet and legs.

Sexcel™ is used to join heifers as part of a fixed time artificial insemination program and any return heats are also joined to Sexed Genetics – but those with a shorter gestation.

Sexcel™ is used across the “top” cows in the herd. These are determined by James and includes the most fertile and youngest cows.

This was the first season James and Pat used InFocus™. Next year they anticipate about 400 of their cows – across both herds – to calve to InFocus™.

“I’m pretty confident they are going to come out black and with beef characteristics,” James said. “I have no issues with them coming out of a Jersey because we have bred our Jerseys that way, to spit out whatever we join them too. Plus, InFocus™ are sold as a calving ease bull, so it was a no-brainer for us.”

InFocus™ sires have been proven in more than 300 herds globally and are the only beef- dairy cross product with validated dairy calving ease data, according to ABS.

InFocus™ was intriguing for James and Pat’s because of its potential to provide an additional income stream for their business.

Previously, the brothers had sold bull calves on the local calf truck or via private sales.

Now, they will decide on the market for their InFocus™ calves based on the season.

“With the InFocus™, if it is going to be a good year and we have excess grass we will continue to rear them and have that revenue stream to later sell-off to a feedlot or abattoir,” James said.

“If not, ABS has a calf rearer and people are always looking for black cattle, it will be easy to move them on.”

Having the ability to easily breed dairy-beef and an organized market is something James has been waiting for in the Australian dairy industry.

“Over in America and pretty much everywhere else around the world, apart from Australia, dairy farmers have that opportunity for extra revenue with beef,” he said.

“With the last couple of seasons we’ve had up north (in Australia) there has been a lot of destocking and I’m sure many farmers would be looking towards these dairy-cross cattle to restock because they still have that look they are chasing.”