One south west Victorian dairy farming family has found it easier to decide which animals to keep in their milking herd.
They are making more informed and confident breeding, culling, and bull selection decisions as a result of the addition of genomic testing.
Dale and Karen Angus, Ondit dairy farmers, began genomic testing their young stock four years ago and believe it will improve their business bottom line because of its ability to improve their genetic base across their herd.
“From a genetic standpoint, genomic testing allows us to make informed, data-supported decisions about who stays and who goes,” Karen explained.
Dale’s visual assessment of the animals is used to make the final decision, which is based on genomic data.
Dale and Karen milk 400 autumn-calving Holstein cows in a grazing-based system north of Colac.
When the Angus family participated in the Dairy Australia Focus Farm programme, they were introduced to genomic testing.
They were intrigued at the time by how other farmers chose heifers for the export market.
What began as a “casual lunchtime discussion” evolved into an important part of their farm and a factor in their business’s growth.
The latter benefit is attributed to making more informed decisions with the genomic data to which they have access.
Thanks to genomic data “taking away the guesswork,” Karen and Dale have also felt more empowered in discussions with breeding advisors.
“This year and last year, we’ve developed a much broader understanding of genetics, and it’s helped us make decisions about the bulls we use,” Karen said.
“We understand the data a lot more, opposed to having catalogues put in front of us. We make our own choices. It’s our company, and we need to feel comfortable and confident in every decision.”
When selecting bulls and evaluating heifers, the Angus use DataGene’s Balanced Performance Index (BPI) and consider several animal traits such as fertility, milk fat and protein percentage, yield, and survival.
The BPI has the “most weighting,” but fertility comes in second.
“We rank them first by BPI and then look at individual traits,” Karen explained.
“We’ve been trying to improve fertility in our herd since we started on our own seven years ago.”
In practise, this means that if two high BPI animals had a “toss-up,” the one with the higher fertility would be chosen.
They believe that as more of the milking herd is tested, the information generated by genomic testing will inform more of their breeding decisions.
“Genetics may be a small part of our business, but the one percenters often determine how profitable and sustainable our business is,” Karen explained.