Breeding the best thanks to genomics and Sexcel

Andrew Delaney isn’t short of replacement heifers. In fact, the Nirranda dairy farmer has enough to satisfy his annual herd intake and plenty leftover to sell to the export market – making the most of recent high prices. But it’s one thing to have quantity and something totally different to combine this with quality. Andrew and Jacqui Delaney have both.

If a trip down the paddock to view their “even” herd of rising two-year-old ABS JERONIMO-P heifers – due to calve in mid-September to FB 53 Kenobi GIANNIS.  – isn’t proof enough, Andrew’s genomic data tells an even more impressive story. In the most recent Australian Breeding Values (ABV) release, in April, the Delaneys not only held the top heifer spot, but they also bred six inside the top 100. These heifers were ranked according to their Balanced Performance Index (BPI) – an economic index which helps Australian dairy farmers independently select sires for their breeding program. The top Australian heifer was sired by the country’s highest ranked Holstein JERONIMO-P and has a BPI$ of 544.

Underlying Andrew & Jacqui Delaneys’ recent herd improvement acceleration has been their focus on selecting young genomic bulls with high BPI rankings and their use of ABS Sexcel® sexed genetics to deliver more heifer calves.

Genomic testing results and the BPI underpin most breeding decisions for the Delaneys and, according to Andrew, the data doesn’t lie. “As soon as I get my genomic numbers back, I work out ‘there’s my good ones and my bad ones’ and ‘there’s my cut off point’,” he said. “I work out my top 40-45 heifers, the ones I want, and then there is a line. Anything below that is gone.” “Even if it looks phenomenal and has a beautiful appearance, it’s got to go,” Jacqui added. Most recently this “line” was a BPI$ of 310. Anything below that number was sold. To put it in perspective, a BPI$ of 310 places the Delaney heifers among the top 2 per cent of females for BPI in Australia.

According to the latest ABV release, the Delaneys’ heifers in the top 100 – including five sired by JERONIMO-P and one by Boghill Glamour PERSUADE – all had a BPI$ of more than 467. Andrew and Jacqui started genomic testing their heifers six years ago. Since then, their average BPI has risen 182 per cent, from 110 to 310 BPI$.

Underlying the Delaneys’ recent herd improvement acceleration has been their focus on selecting young genomic bulls with high BPI rankings and their use of ABS Sexcel® sexed genetics to deliver more heifer calves. The story behind the Delaneys’ high-flying heifers started when a young genomic bull called ABS JERONIMO-P caught Andrew’s attention two years ago. At the time, the bull was fresh from breaking Australian records as the first genomic sire to hit the Australian market with a BPI$ of more than 400. In April 2021, he was labelled Australia’s highest-ranking sire with a BPI$ of 596 and a Health Weighted Index (HWI) score of 602.

For Andrew, the decision to use JERONIMO-P as a Sexcel product made both economic and practical sense. “I was looking for good type, and a sire with a BPI$ of over 480, he also delivered a bit of width in the rear udder – what we were looking for,” he said. One of these heifers, bred because of Andrew’s decisions three years ago, is now Australia’s highest BPI heifer. This heifer’s dam was sired by De-Su 12128 TAILOR and is one of 40 owned by the Delaneys due to be joined this month to Bomaz EPISODE.

Andrew and Jacqui, their children Beau 11, Jacob 8 and Amelia 6, farm with Andrew’s parents Ted and Doreen. Ted and Doreen started using artificial insemination more than 50 years ago. While Andrew is pleased his family has bred the country’s top heifer, he doesn’t focus on individual cows when it comes to herd improvement. Instead, he looks to enhance the whole herd, preferring to lift the average rather than focusing on the odd outlier. To do this he joins all heifers and top genomic cows – those cows with a BPI of more than 240 – to Sexcel semen and chooses about three bulls for each joining.

Two heifers by short gestation sire De-Su 13530 SEVILLE were freshly calved at the Delaneys’ in February. One of these SEVILLEs has a Production Index (PI) of 111, was producing 31.3 litres/day or 2.15kg of milk solids a day. This included 1.13kg of protein and 1.02kg of butterfat.

Outside of their highest-ranking genomic animals, the rest of the milking herd has been joined with conventional semen. But recently Andrew has been weighing up the economics of using ABS Beef InFocus™ dairy-beef semen and making the most of the established supply chain. “To get a couple of hundred bucks for a beef calf that is a few days old, could work,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about rearing them.”

Andrew does all his own AI, having previously worked as a technician, and now he’s witnessing first-hand the fertility improvements in his own herd as a result of selecting young genomic, high BPI sires. One example was during the December joining when he used 50 straws of EPISODE to join the first 50 cows on heat and 38 got in calf. He’s also seen an improvement in the herd’s average bulk milk cell count which, in March, sat at 114,000 cells/ml – despite including 50 “older” cows due to be sold soon.

Last year the Delaneys split calving Holstein herd made the most of favourable seasonal conditions, producing an average per cow production of 8100 litres, 289kg of butterfat and 284kg of protein across an average 305 day lactation.

Andrew has always had an interest in genetics and enjoyed searching for the next avenue for herd improvement. He described breeding as his “hobby”, while Jacqui insisted it was his “passion”. “He only competes with himself,” Jacqui said about Andrew’s continual quest for herd improvement. “He does what works for his system, the herd is for his benefit.” “I want good cows to work with,” Andrew added. “After all, I see them every day, I’m milking them every day.”