Ticking all the breeding boxes at Cooriemungle

Byron Smethurst has strict criteria for selecting bulls. The manager of two dairies, milking a total of 600 cows at Cooriemungle in southwest Victoria, he knows it’s possible to breed cows with a combination of form, function and profit – it just requires research.

“I like good looking cows, but they have to make money,” he said. “It’s possible to have the best of both worlds, high BPI (Balanced Performance Index) cows with high type.”

Byron Smethurst will look to Linear Choice bulls and high BPI sires as a starting point for selecting balanced sires.

This year Byron used the new Holstein sire Penn-England BARBER. BARBER is part of ABS’ Linear Choice range of sires, launched this January at International Dairy Week at Tatura, Victoria. Linear Choice is a new range of ABS St. Jacobs sires that meet a strict 17-point criteria to ensure dairy farmers have the best function, production, and health in their herd.

Breeding a “balanced” cow is at the heart of Linear Choice and it’s also Byron’s underlying breeding objective. He selects bulls that rank 400 BPI$ or more, then focuses on their udder characteristics before moving to examine their linear traits – those covering type and function. “I look at teat length, that’s very important and then strength and stature – they must be as close together as possible,” he explained. “I don’t want to breed greyhounds, narrow-gutted, tall cows. We need the strength for our cows to handle the conditions here in Australia.”

Following the examination of these characteristics, Byron will look for sires with a positive rump angle to avoid breeding cows with high pins as well as their rear teat placement scores. Byron’s focus on rear teat placement is as much about form as it is function. He said if the teats are too close it’s difficult for the milking cups to seal tightly on the udder for milk harvesting.

Positive daughter fertility, 110 or more for Mastitis and bulls with the A2 gene round-out Byron’s extensive breeding checklist. BARBER met most of Byron’s strict bull requirements. “BARBER definitely is balanced, he can pretty well go on any cow,” he said. “I’m not in the dairy as much anymore, so I try to select good sires that can go over any cow.”

A self-described “extreme cow person” Byron has milked for 40 years and always valued genetics. He believes genetics can unlock profitability on a dairy farm as cows bred for function and profitability are also efficient. The best example of this was two years ago when a new herd was purchased to milk at the second dairy he manages. “The cows we bought probably were not from sires that I would have used,” he said. “We are seeing the difference; they are not producing as much milk from the same amount of feed as the first herd.”

Byron said the introduction of Linear Choice and its line-up of sires that match specific criteria was something the Australian dairy industry needed. Personally, he will look to Linear Choice bulls and high BPI sires as a starting point for selecting balanced sires. “I will probably look at them first but still go through the bull proofs with a fine-tooth comb,” he said. “Balance is important.”