Cogent’s new partnership with US-based STgenetics® provides UK farmers with access to an array of bulls produced from a cutting edge breeding programme, together with a selection of breeding tools designed to maximise farm efficiencies.
Every year, STgenetics® genomically tests 4,000 Holstein and Jersey heifers as part of its internal female programme to ensure only the best go on to produce the AI bulls of the future. Of the 1,000 bulls that are produced each year, only 60 reach production, ensuring only the genetic elite make it into the bull catalogues.
Following the partnership between Cogent and STg® last October, UK farmers now have access to a wide variety of bulls from this in-depth selection programme. STg’s foundations lie in semen sexing technologies. At the same time, it runs its cutting edge bull selection programme and provides farmers with innovative products, such as a genomic screening service. The aim is to provide the breeding tools to boost farm efficiencies.
The company’s internal female breeding programme is at the heart of its bull programme. Bulls are housed at two US facilities, in Wisconsin and Texas. Bulls in Wisconsin undergo more health testing than those in Texas in order to comply with EU requirements, which are the most stringent in the world. The female breeding programme runs across a number of facilities in the US. ST Ohio Heifer Center is the main unit, which currently houses 5,000 animals.
Of 5,000 pregnancies generated a year, 2,000 will be female. These animals will be genomically tested, with the top 300 selected to move to the nucleus herd of elite donors at ‘ST Vienna’, Wisconsin. Females will also be bought-in from around the world to be included in the programme.
Dan Carroll, dairy programme manager for STg, Texas, says: “Females are selected on a variety of traits to ensure the production of a wide range of bulls which meet the varying requirements of the modern dairyman. This includes traits of growing economic importance, including milk, fat, protein and stature.”
Elite females undergo conventional flushing or IVF using sexed female, sexed male and conventional semen to produce bulls, together with female replacements.
Mr Carroll says: “The combination of sexed semen with embryo transfer and IVF means we can target and create certain matings for males and females, which provides a greater opportunity to increase our bull offering or increase the array of females to produce the next generation.”
All calves produced from elite females are genomically tested. The top 6% of males then enter production. The best females will enter the elite herd, while the rest go to ST Ohio Heifer Center. Over the last three years, STg has been developing a dairy feed efficiency index based on residual feed intake, and this trait is shown to be 20% heritable.
Mr Carroll says: “At least 60% of all costs on a dairy are feed related. The question is, are some animals more feed efficient and are we able to measure it? We now have a progeny testing programme to determine the genetic value of a bull based on his daughters going through the system and how much they consume.”
Feed intake information is measured right the way through the animal’s life. This includes data on milk and feed intakes on automatic calf feeders, combined with weight gains. Total feed intake from seven-12 months of age is also recorded and combined with average daily gain. Measurements are continued for the first 100 days of lactation to see whether efficiency is carried into the milking herd.
All of this information is combined to produce the EcoFeed™ index. STg also runs a similar programme with beef animals. However, the most marked development in recent time has been the creation of SexedULTRA 4M™, a sexed semen which includes double the number of semen cells per straw compared to traditional sexed semen straws, says Mr Carroll.
“Since we started with sexed semen in the early 2000s, we have been wanting to include the best genetics, improve conception rates, make it usable on both cows and heifers and address long-term pricing.
Our aim was to get conception rates with SexedULTRA 4M™ at or above the conception rates of conventional semen.” SexedULTRA 4M™ is now available through Cogent in the UK. Mr Carroll believes using this sexed semen alongside genetic screening provides farmers with the tools to further progress herd genetics and efficiencies.
By using STg and Cogent’s genomic screening service, Genetic Visions®, producers can establish the genetic merit of females from birth. Mr Carroll says producers can then make an informed decision about which animals to put to sexed semen to breed high genetic merit replacements, and which to put to beef. In doing so, farmers are then able to make gains in breeding and environmental efficiencies.
He says: “It is about using SexedULTRA 4M™, Genetic Visions® and the other breeding tools we provide to create a forward-looking and comprehensive genetic game plan for the dairyman. The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Andrew Holliday answers some key questions about what impact the partnership between Cogent and STgenetics® will have on UK farmers.
What are the main benefits of the new partnership? By joining with STg, we are giving farmers access to the most advanced testing programme in the world. The fact STg generates 5,000 pregnancies a year through its internal female breeding programme is all about improving the availability of the best genetics to help farmers improve performance on their farms. The partnership between Cogent and STg also provides access to a world class beef stud. Plus, farmers can benefit from the latest advancement in sexing technology through SexedULTRA 4M™. It is taking everything to a massively different level in every department.
Will farmers notice a difference in bulls available through Cogent? By joining with STg, we now have a bigger range of bulls available. Before the partnership, Cogent had a total of 60-70 dairy bulls available, whereas ST has more than 150 dairy bulls, including Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss, Ayrshires, Guernseys and Dairy Shorthorns. So we have greatly increased our dairy offering, and we also have an increased offering of beef bulls across a range of breeds. We have been able to increase the number of dairy bulls in the top 10 and top 50 in the bull rankings and we now have the top PLI bull in the form of Rubi Agronaut, so we have been able to up our game genetically. With the scale of the STg programme and variety of traits STg is selecting for, we can really offer a bull to meet all of a farmer’s selection criteria.
What tools are available to help farmers with their breeding programmes? We can have an adviser on-farm to see what makes the farm tick. Does it need to improve constituents or fertility, for example? They can analyse where the farmer needs to go and advise accordingly. Genetic Visions® offers another dimension to this service. Farmers can identify their best females through testing, breeding the best to sexed semen, while putting lower performing animals to high quality beef, thereby maximising the value of every pregnancy.
Will British farmers be able to select bulls on feed efficiency? In late 2018, UK farmers will be able to select bulls using the ‘EcoFeed index’, based on residual feed intake, following extensive work by STg in the US. We have been breeding for production and health for a long time, but this is next in breeding for efficiency.