Taking a lead from New Zealand where most dairy farms are using fresh semen, Cogent has identified a gap in the UK market which might provide an alternative solution to the needs of block calving farms.
Using fresh semen for artificial insemination has been common practice in New Zealand since the 1990s, with about 80% of dairy farmers in New Zealand using fresh semen rather than frozen.
This allows significant benefits to be reaped as one bull collection will produce significantly more straws and there is little need for expensive storage requirements, but of course the big drawback is it must be used within the short specified time.
The first batch of fresh sexed semen in the UK was produced by Cogent last year using the same sorting and collection process as semen which would subsequently be frozen.
Since then, trials have been taking place with fresh sexed semen on selected farms which can synchronise a large group of maiden heifers and serve on one day, or where there is a tight calving pattern and the likelihood of sufficient cows bulling on any one day as the product must be used within three days.
The bull stud procedure starts with a morning collection, with straws processed and packed by midday.
Storage temperature is critical and should ideally be stored at 15-18degC. The quarter CC straws are usually dispatched during the afternoon, either to the local area rep who will deliver to farm the next morning or sometimes the semen goes straight to the farm.
The insulated packing box has a thermometer inside and out with an alert to monitor temperature.
Straws are packed in tubes of 15 straws, each inside an insulated pouch, and semen needs to be stored and temperature maintained when it arrives on-farm until it is used.
While temperature is important, if it is kept within the correct range it will store for up to 48 hours if necessary, although the sooner it is used the better.
Surprisingly, cost differences between sexed frozen and sexed fresh are very little, with both coming in on average at £28/straw. However, variations may occur depending whether heifers are on a synchronisation programme or not.
Cogent now has a 10-bull team at its Beachin Stud, Cheshire, for fresh semen collection.
Most are Irish Holstein bulls with high Economic Breeding Index, and high Spring Calving Index and Autumn Calving Index ratings to ensure genetic progress with proven genomics.
In Dorset, George Holmes runs more than a thousand cows over three dairy units near Dorchester, with a 240 Friesian autumn block calving herd in Frampton, a 320-cow spring calving herd of New Zealand crosses and a further 420 autumn calving cows at Poxwell, which is contract farmed by George’s son William.
George was keen to use conventional sexed semen in the spring calving herd, not only because of the lack of value in the Jersey cross Friesian bull calves, but because of having to deal with the challenges of being locked up with bovine TB.
George also notes that historically they have had a high bull to heifer calf ratio at the spring unit. Therefore, sexed semen was an obvious choice to breed just his dairy heifers with the dairy beef calves being reared on-farm.
With conceptions rates being such a key element of block calving herds, there was some apprehension of meeting the target six-week in-calf rate of 75-80%.
But with SexedULTRA 4M available, George took the plunge. In 2018, all heifers from the spring and autumn herds followed a synchronisation programme and were served to sexed semen from Cogent.
They achieved conception rates of 64% in the autumn herd and 52% in the spring herd.
Milking cows were also served to sexed semen using some basic qualifying criteria, with conception rates of more than 50% for both herds.
Such results gave George the confidence to move on to the next stage and partake in the fresh sexed semen trial.
Once bulls had been selected and the synchronisation programme agreed with the farm vet, George received his shipment the night before serving and admits to being a bit nervous about keeping the package at the correct temperature overnight.
Serving the next morning, he says it was easy to unpack and load guns without thawing.
The subsequent PD session found his results compared well to the frozen sexed semen used the previous year.
He says: “We achieved 63% in our first attempt using fresh sexed with the heifer synchronisation programme.”
Reassured by encouraging results, George has decided he will continue to use fresh sexed semen again, which he thinks is competitively priced and ties in nicely with his heifer synchronisation programme.