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Q&A: Trials of adapting breeding advice for different cultures

From super dairies to house cow production, Steve Winnington has seen a dairy production systems around the world.
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Steve Winnington has been able to travel the world’s milk producing countries through his work in the international semen industry. Here, he tells Laura Bowyer about his role and his travels.

Q What is your role at the moment?

Q What is your role at the moment?

For the past three years I have worked for World Wide Sires, based in California, as area director of marketing for UK, Ireland, Central Europe and the Middle East.


I have worked in the semen industry for more than 22 years, having previously worked for Genus. I have had the opportunity to work across Europe and the Middle East, from the Azores to the United Arab Emirates, promoting dairy genetics.


I am the first European to have worked in the World Wide Sires US head office and try to be a voice for UK dairy farmers here.

Q What have been some of the most interesting countries you have visited?

We work within 70 diverse markets globally. I have really enjoyed visiting small family dairy farms in the Azores, which are home to 100,000 cows. They are passionate producers and make a lot of cheese, keeping mainly Holsteins.


In contrast, I believe super-dairies in the Middle East are some of the most well-run in the world, particularly in terms of management and cow comfort, with more than 20,000 cows being kept on some units.


Whether it is the Azores, UK or the Middle East, US genetics have been very successful.


I believe one of the main reasons for this is the great openness of data within the US industry made available to farmers.

Q Which country has the most challenging dairy industry?

India has the most challenging dairy industry in the world and is home to 120 million dairy animals, 50 per cent of which are buffalo. There is an average milk production of 1,500 litres across all breeds.


India has a fragmented dairy industry, mainly consisting of house cows supporting a family.


There are few commercial dairy farms in the country, with many farmers lacking modern cow sense, even to the point of not giving the cow free access to feed and water 24 hours-a-day.


I was excited to go and help set up the first international artificial insemination [AI] business in India. We worked with a local milk processor to provide better quality genetics to enable the local milk supply to grow and meet the increasing demand for fresh milk.


In India, about 30 per cent of the country’s dairy cows are AI’d each year, with 60m straws of locally-produced semen of largely low quality, with no milk recording or genetic data.


There are three breeds widely used here – Holstein, Jersey and buffalo – although I also spent some time with the native Gyr breed as well.


Most AI technicians travel around on motorbikes, delivering low numbers of straws, and are run by state AI centres or local milk processors. The Indian market requires an easy to manage, high productive life cow.


Buffalo will remain important to the country’s industry, as it is about eight per cent butter fat and well suited to the humid climate. The Jersey proves to be a useful breed for India, as it is less susceptible to heat stress, while its milk is useful for production of paneer [Indian cheese], which requires milk with a higher fat percentage.


The industry has to source its semen from within the country because its Government is so strict on import restrictions.


Trade barriers need addressing to lower restrictions on what is entering the country.


As large dairy farms are built, there is a real challenge to find disease free, high genetic animals to fill them. There is a shortage of milk in a country with many people living below the poverty line.


As soon as a family might have a little extra income, they will put it towards some milk to go with their rice, adding protein to their diet.

Q What is next in breeding technology?

I still believe proven genetics have a value and a stud’s proven line-up validates its genomic programme. Genomics are here to stay, however it is becoming increasingly important to ensure herds are not inbreeding.


Make sure you use a reputable mating programme which can ensure inbreeding is protected within your herd.

Q Why has World Wide Sires decided to set up in the UK?

World Wide Sires is a farmer co-operative owned and driven by more than 50,000 dairy farmers, which is not a business model in existence in the UK semen market.


The co-operative has a rich history of key bulls, such as Blackstar, Chief Mark, Oman and Planet, responsible for much of the modern dairy breeding, while still being a premier source of genetics today, with bulls such as Mogul and Supersire.


Our product has been available in the UK for more than 30 years, but we are delighted for first time World Wide Sires is working directly with UK farmers and giving free access to products and knowledge shared by our US owners.

Q What are your thoughts on the current state of the UK dairy industry?

In the last 30 years, global milk consumption doubled, and it is predicted to do the same thing in the next 30 years.


Yes, we are oversupplied with milk within the EU, but, in this country, supermarkets are strangling the situation and the Russian embargo is not helping.


The UK is not self-sufficient in milk, so it is crazy the milk price is so low for many producers.


On my travels I have seen how strong the UK brand is, but I am disappointed not to see UK dairy products overseas.


The UK has a quality product and brand, along with a good population on our doorstep willing to pay a fair price for this healthy product, produced by some of the most efficient dairy farmers in the world.


Surely, with these strengths, the dairy industry should be strong in the UK. I have travelled extensively over the last 20 years and I look forward to the day I am served British butter on my flight with my bread roll, but currently there is not the brand to make this a reality.

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