Genetic reporting made easy

For years managers Isaac and Michelle Johnstone have contemplated how to best demonstrate their herd’s genetic progress for the corporate offshore farm owners.

Sure, the New Zealand-based board of directors viewed the cows when they were in south west Victoria a few times a year, but the visual assent and production details only went so far.

“We’ve been caught in the past with nothing to really say how or to answer their question when they asked how we are selecting bulls,” Isaac said.

“So that’s why ABS Australia’s Genetic Management System (GMS) is a very good reporting tool for me to use with a corporate model. It enables me to say ‘hey, this is what we are using, this is the outcome we are going to have’. Through this, the board can see the value-adding in the herd, the reason why we are doing what we are doing and be comfortable with that.”

The GMS is only a new addition to the suite of reporting tools used at the Glenmore 850-cow operation at Grassmere, near Warrnambool.

Isaac and Michelle Johnstone are the managers of Glenmore, a New Zealand-owned dairy farm at Grassmere in Western Victoria. The farm milks 850 cows.

Isaac and Michelle are looking forward to presenting the next GMS report to the owners soon, alongside several other documents demonstrating the day-to-day running of the farm as well as its profitability.

“With the GMS, the owners can understand the farm a lot better, why we do it the way we do it,” Michelle said. “I mean New Zealand farming to Australian farming is so different.”

“It is accountability, it gives them confidence in what we are doing,” Isaac added. “It pretty much ticks that box, it provides that transparency. We are not saying something and something else is happening in the paddock, it is actually on paper as well. It is hard when they might only come over once or twice a year and only get a couple of days. They might only look at the herd for 20 minutes. Often the comments we get back from a lot of those guys are, ‘the herd is looking really good now, you’ve got a lot of nice-looking animals.’ They can see it visually. But that technical stuff that’s coming with the GMS, what is behind what we are doing, it gives us the accountability and the board the confidence in what we are doing.”

Service provider Dylan Jewell from National Herd Development has been working with Isaac and Michelle for years and introduced them to the GMS.

Initially the couple discovered up to 70 per cent of the sires they had chosen were ones that the GMS would have chosen for them. This provided reassurance for Isaac and Michelle and confirmed their breeding objectives were being achieved.

“When we first looked at the report, it was good to see, it made me feel good,” Isaac said. “The way the report looked, the results, it was because we had been breeding for those things for those years.”

The report also confirmed the Glenmore strategy of using out-cross sires and keeping a close-eye on pedigree bloodlines, to limit inbreeding, was working. The GMS came back with the inbreeding indicator at 1 per cent, something Michelle and Isaac were told was “fantastic”.

The GMS has also made sire selection more efficient, turning a half-day job into a 30 minute exercise.

“Dylan will ring me and say, ‘I’ve got 10 bulls’. I will say, ‘how many come-up on the GMS?” Isaac explained.

“This makes sure when he turns up, because everyone’s time is important, we are not going to sit there and thrash-out what we are going to do, and what we aren’t going to do. We can do it in a half an hour.”

The Glenmore breeding objectives for the Friesian herd includes positive components, positive milk, daughter fertility, “reasonable” calving ease, good slope of rump, teat length and all-round health.

The herd is “medium” frame, weighing 500-550kg and producing 500kg of milk solids a cow, on average.

Feed conversion is crucial, with pasture key and about 1.2 tonne per cow a year of wheat (with canola meal as required) fed to each cow. This volume varies with the season, but Isaac said the farm aims for this bail feed to make up 30 per cent of the overall diet.

These breeding objectives work alongside the “dump” of data from the Glenmore dairy management software and herd test results to paint a picture of the herd’s genetic progress, the sires which best suit the herd and what these sires could achieve for the business.

Glenmore doesn’t individually mate cows, rather the business uses 50-100 doses of one sire.

“That’s where the GMS is a winner, we are not individually selecting cows for certain bulls, but with the GMS we know if we select 10 bulls, no matter what cows they go over, it is going to work,” Isaac said.

The GMS has also struck the interest of the five Glenmore staff, with Isaac and Michelle keen to educate employees about their breeding goals, sire selection and what drives these decisions.

Isaac said the GMS would be something used regularly with the property’s second-in-charge Kallan Melican.

“With the GMS stuff, he can look at that data prior to our joining program and then go and look at those cows, where they are at and then say ‘these cows are suitable based on the criteria that the GMS is putting up in front of us’,” Isaac said. “He will be able to select cows without almost even looking at them. I think it actually ticks a few boxes on the staff side, because we can’t always be there all the time.”

Glenmore’s corporate farm structure was one of the reasons Dylan Jewell recommended the GMS to Isaac and Michelle.

The system takes the guesswork out of breeding, but also makes it easier and more “understandable”. It’s this reassurance that has kicked goals for the Glenmore team.

“I just knew they would be able to utilise the information,” Dylan said of Isaac and Michelle. “Being a corporate farm presenting all this kind of stuff to the owners, I knew a good tool for that. It also reassures everyone involved that we have been using the right bulls and sending the herd in the right direction. That medium-sized, great converting animal, that gets back in calf.”

Read more about the Genetic Management System (GMS)