An emerging demand for replacement calves that are born hornless means LIC will offer a team of moderately high-BW polled sires next year.
Polled sires possess either one polled gene (heterozygous) or two polled genes (homozygous) in their DNA – which determines whether 50% or 100% (respectively) of the progeny will be born without horns.
LIC’s polled team is expected to feature at least one homozygous bull.
Among farmers in general, high-indexing polled bulls present an attractive long-term proposition, because they can save on significant labour and vet costs, and help with on farm animal welfare.
LIC bull acquisition manager Simon Worth says several key developments are happening, both domestically and internationally, in the niche area of polled genetics.
“Polled genetics is very much a ‘watch-this-space’ area right now, and scientists are working on some really interesting solutions over the short to medium term,” he says.
For example, in the United States one company is generating ‘gene-edited’ Polled sires.
Gene-editing is where the genome is altered by ’molecular scissors’, meaning DNA can be inserted or deleted.
The editing replicates what is seen in nature, as demonstrated by the gene-edited Polled sires.
The editing can occur on high genetic merit embryos, and the US company is working with regulators on the sale of semen from these bulls.
However, it is yet to be determined how this practice and knowledge can be applied or transferred to the New Zealand dairy animal.
But Simon says there’s a portion of farmers who want a market response now, and LIC was ready for this.
“It’s by no means a groundswell of sudden market demand, but we need to acknowledge that polled genetics is a slowly growing area of interest among some farmers. Next year, through the Alpha Catalogue, we’ll offer a team of polled bulls which will probably include Costers Pollaxe – a bull that in 2013 was good enough on BW to make the Premier Sires team.”
Pollaxe will be complemented by a variety of other young bulls which represent some outstanding cow families, Simon says.
“We have a pipeline of polled genetics coming through our Sire Proving Scheme. Looking ahead, not all young polled bulls will necessarily make their way through sire proving – instead they may become available as yearling bulls to be marketed through the Alpha Sire Catalogue.”
The polled team for 2017 will mainly be made up of bulls that have one copy of the polled gene, Simon says, but one bull was earmarked for production which had two copies of the polled gene (i.e. homozygous).
“At least half the polled team will be young bulls without a daughter proof. In addition to Pollaxe (who is proven), there’s a spring bull coming through this year who’s looking promising on breeding worth (BW), and there will be another 2-3 that we’ll be awaiting proofs for. We’ll have the yearlings too, of course.”
Simon notes BW is commonly compromised when focus is diverted in favour of making genetic progress elsewhere (i.e. on a specific trait), but he says there is clear intent in LIC’s polled programme to limit effects on cow efficiency.
“While we want that polled gene, we need to be dragging along BW – in fact it needs to be led by BW. The encouraging thing in what we’re seeing in this year’s crop of bulls, is that so far the testing confirms we have multiple bulls out of high indexing, proven, cow families. The holy grail is to identify homozygous, daughter-proven, high BW bulls that are well-balanced.”
Other developments are on the horizon, Simon says, which should further stimulate momentum in LIC’s polled programme.
“We’re working with a number of herds, including the Coster family near Tauranga (who bred Pollaxe), and with breeders who are aggressively using embryo transfer work.“That’s the beauty with these high-profile proven cow families; breeders can use the best BW bulls, and then – as something different – use a polled bull. A few breeders have seen that niche. They’ll tick-off the high-indexing stuff, and then come in with a polled bull… they know there’s a market with LIC, and have already produced some interesting polled females as future bull dams.”
Simon says LIC continues to generate “a very good polled product” for farmers, “and we’ll be keeping a keen eye on what happens internationally with gene-edited Polled sires.”