Dairy farm harnesses power of genomics to accelerate genetic progress

Welsh dairy farmer Eurof Edwards is turning his attention to accelerating the genetic potential of his herd
Welsh dairy farmer Eurof Edwards is turning his attention to accelerating the genetic potential of his herd

A Welsh dairy farm is harnessing the power of genomics in a bid to accelerate genetic progress in its split block calving herd.

Rhydeden Farm, a 100-hectare holding in Conwy, produces milk from 175 spring calving cows and 125 which calve in the autumn.

The herd currently produces a milk yield average of 6,500 litres per cow at 4.5% butterfat and 3.6% protein.

Since Eurof Edwards joined the family farming business a few years ago, it has resulted in herd expansion, work to optimise the grazing platform, and investment in new infrastructure.

Eurof is now turning his attention to accelerating the genetic potential of the herd and has teamed up with the Welsh government funded Farming Connect initiative to run a genomic testing project.

Currently, all heifer replacements at Rhydeden are progeny of the spring calving herd which allows for easier management for youngstock rearing - 75% of this block calves within six weeks.

Heifer replacements are bred through the use of sexed semen on all the bulling heifers and on cows in the first five weeks of the breeding cycle. The remainder of the herd and the autumn block are inseminated with beef semen.

Eurof anticipates that genomics could help improve business profitability without the need for significant investment because it enables replacements to be selected on genomic figures.

These are the three traits the business will focus on together with the Spring Calving Index (SCI) and Breeding Worth (BW). Fertility; Kilograms of milk protein; and Kilograms of milk butterfat.

Genomic testing has been shown to significantly increase the reliability of the animal’s potential rather than predicting it from sire and dam performance. The aim is to create a more uniform herd.

Osian Hughes, Farming Connect dairy officer, who will be overseeing the project, says these traits are important as improving kilograms of milk constituents has the potential to increase the farm gate milk price without significant investment.

Improving fertility performance through genomic selection will reduce the herd’s calving index and, as a consequence, greenhouse gas emissions produced by the herd.

“Genomic testing will produce SCI and ACI figures for each animal tested," Osian explains.

“The business will be able to make timely decisions in the first few weeks of a heifer’s life, on whether or not to retain her as a replacement, rather than incurring the cost of rearing heifers and then analysing the production and profitability data in the first lactation."

The ambition is to breed replacements from cows and heifers that are top performing on fertility and kilograms of protein and butterfat.