LIC | For the record

For the record

Answers to two quick questions – to do with your farm – may have major ramifications for herd improvement across the national herd:

  • How many cows on your farm needed assistance while calving this year?
  • Have you noticed anything unusual in a calf or a heifer this season?

Richard Spelman, LIC chief scientist, says animal improvement at LIC is “heavily reliant” on both commercial farmers and members of the Sire Proving Scheme (SPS) for answers to the above questions.

Better recording of calving difficulties, especially among heifers, was an area of focus for LIC, he said.

“It’s acknowledged that this isn’t the easiest thing to do – calving is an extremely busy and tiring time on farm. But if calving difficulties happen, that’s critical information for the industry, and in-turn it should help make things a little easier for all farmers in subsequent years.”
SPS farmers record calving difficulties as part of their contract with LIC, and this means most sires receive a few hundred observations.

However, the cooperative wanted more information from a wider cross-section of the farming community.

 “When our genetics teams put together solutions like easy calving bulls, we’re doing so based only on the information we’ve got… identifying sires that have harder calvings is crucial because farmers don’t want to be buying semen and using it across the wrong animals only to find it makes for difficult calvings."

Rachel Bloxham, Animal Evaluation manager, says calving outcomes are held in MINDA, which are categorised as:

i)   not recorded;
ii)  no assistance;
iii) some assistance;
iv) major assistance (vet help required).

Improved functionality is expected in MINDA LIVE to make recording of calvings faster and easier, she said.

Events like still-births and abortions were identified through different channels within MINDA, which related to the area of calf abnormalities.

Calves born that don’t get reared were also part of the calf abnormality category, Spelman said.

That category included calves carrying unusual gene variations, including variations identified as undesirable.

“In the last three years or so we’ve been helped by genomic information to identify genetic variations like Fertility 1, 2, 3, and 4. The fertility genetic variations mean an embryo has a 25% chance of being non-viable – that’s providing both the sire and the dam have a copy of the variation (i.e. the gene is recessive).”

Knowing about the fertility variations allowed New Zealand farmers to whittle-down their impact on reproductive results.

A similar case could be made for the gene responsible for Small Calf Syndrome, which had also been identified through a combination of farmer feedback and latest science.

Small Calf Syndrome is now being managed out of the national herd in two main ways:

  1. Since 2013, no new bulls with the small calf syndrome gene have been purchased by cooperative.
  2. Prior to this – where a sire’s Breeding Worth has justified the decision – LIC has marketed bulls with the SCS recessive gene; however, with the use of DataMATE, the carrier bull hasn’t been mated to a carrier dam (of the same gene), meaning the chances of the offspring carrying the SCS gene is nullified.

Farmer feedback was as important as ever in the quest to dilute or eliminate undesirable traits from the national herd.

An example of good farmer feedback related to a recent LIC bull, Lamont. To date, Lamont’s inseminations across the national herd number more than 420,000. 

However, feedback from three farmers about four Lamont calves was a classic case for LIC’s scientists to monitor, Spelman said. “The four calves were reported with respiratory issues, but so far our sequencing of candidate genes has not identified a cause for the variation. We’ve at least eliminated a gene we thought might be related – because of phenotypic similarities – but we have some way to go. There are 3.2 billion base pairs in the bovine genome. In the Lamont case we’ve isolated the responsible gene down to about 450 million base pairs, but we need about 10 further observations (calves with similar issues) to get that number down to 1 million, and that’s a number we can work better with.”



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