Ian Hopping’s herd fertility is a top priority, so investing in sexed semen for the first time last Spring was a decision he did not make lightly.
With an unexpectedly high conception rate, he is thrilled with his return on investment, demonstrating how sexed semen benefits herds.
Now living at Mount Maunganui, Ian owns two dairy farms in Canterbury, which he converted. Both properties have 1000 cows and are run by lower order sharemilkers. Milking twice a day, the predominantly Friesian herds average 550kgsMS per cow. Ian travels South every year during mating and spends 7 days a week for nearly 3 months personally AI-ing his herds. He’s been carrying out DIY AI for more than 30 years. Since the Mycoplasma Bovis outbreak, he hasn’t used any bulls.
Why use sexed semen?
“The key reasons I chose sexed semen was for faster genetic gain, easier calving and early replacements”.
“We wanted high quality Friesian calves from our Friesian yearling heifers, as opposed to mating them to Jersey,” he says. “In the past, if we had calving difficulty with a heifer, 90% of the time she would have a bull calf. So, we took bull calves out of the equation by going to sexed semen.
“Our younger animals also have the best genetics, so breeding heifers using high quality sires helps us continue to fast track these gains.”
Heifers were mated for 7 days as they came on heat. The balance had a PG (prostaglandin) shot on day 7 and were then mated based on observed heats. 95% of them were mated in 12 days. Friesians were mated to sexed Friesian semen and crossbreeds to unsexed Jersey. Pregnancy testing six weeks after AI showed there was no difference in conception rates. Ian mates his heifers two weeks earlier than the milking herd to give them longer to get back in calf again.
“Our average conception rate was between 58 and 65% with the unsexed jersey semen depending on the bull. So, despite being told I would see a reduction in conception rate using sexed, 63% for sexed semen was a great result!” he says.
“Using sexed semen on heifers will help us achieve good quality early replacements as well as fast tracking our genetic gain. If you’re investing in a sexed straw, you’re better to use it on a heifer rather than a high producing cow with a lower chance of conceiving.”
Ian says using sexed semen also allowed him to get enough replacements early and mate a larger percentage of his milking herd with short gestation Belgian Blue to help condense his calving. The milking herds are mated to CRV unsexed Friesian straws for 4 weeks and the Belgian Blue for 5 weeks. Ian says they really are easy calving and the calf rearers love them.
“Using Belgian Blue gives us markets for calves and a better price than bobbies. We used Belgian Blue last year and on average our cows calved three days earlier than the dairy sires.”
CRV sexed semen customers can select their bulls. There was one CRV Friesian sire in particular that caught Ian’s eye.
“We used CRV’s highest BW bull, Lennan. One of our farms supplies Synlait, so it was important he was also A2A2. He was easy calving and had good udder conformation, which I really value.”
Tips on using sexed semen
To preserve the quality of sexed semen, Ian says he thaws three straws at a time instead of 10 to minimise time from thawing to insemination. But as well as good technique, Ian believes successful AI also hinges on a well-run mating programme and making sure your animal health and nutrition is spot on.
“You need to be running your mating programme properly and have experienced staff on the job for heat detection. We use Estrotect patches and on 95% of animals we put up for mating they are completely red.
“Cow condition at the time of mating is also paramount. To get good results you have to do things right and pay attention to the detail.”
Ian believes high milk production is coming at the expense of cow fertility. He says our industry is battling with low conception rates and is calling for the industry to put more emphasis on getting cows in calf.
“The battle we have with high producing cows is getting them in-calf again. They’re working so hard to produce milk that something has got to give. And I think it’s reproduction.
“Innovations like sexed semen can make a big difference to the productivity and health of our animals and our farm businesses. But without good fertility management, the value of that investment won’t be realised.”
Benefits of using frozen sexed semen
CRV Manager Product Development and Product Management Peter van Elzakker says the benefit of frozen sexed semen is that farmers get the exact quality sire they order, and can manage their own mating allocation.
“Using the correct semen handling and the right selection of animals on heat will help get the best possible results using CRV sexed semen.
“This starts with ensuring the cows are in good condition from calving to mating. It is also important to ensure all farm staff are skilled at identifying cows on heat and understand the farm’s heat detection process.
“We recommend farmers record pre-mating heats and only utilise sexed semen on cows that have cycled prior. A quality heat detection product, such as Estrotect, will help farmers and their staff identify cows correctly that are on heat and ready to breed.”
“This tool calculates the required amount of sexed, conventional and dairy beef semen required based on a herd’s fertility performance, required replacements and desired outcomes, such as fewer bobbies or more heifers for export.
“This means farmers can tailor their AI programme to the needs of their herd and their business for an even stronger herd and healthier returns.”