Kent farm double production with GENEadvance®

Iain McGeoch GENEadvance customer

A farm in Kent has more than doubled their heifers’ production and has achieved a 197% improvement in £PLI progress since joining herd improvement programme, GENEadvance®.

Iain McGeoch, the Herd Manager at Watchingwell Farms Ltd, joined the business in 2019 and has been focused on making long-term changes ever since. With a drive to increase the efficiency and production of the herd, Iain knew he needed to reduce the cows’ stature and focus more on increasing genetic  progress.

Watchingwell Farms Ltd, owned by the Billings family, was originally breeding to fit the show-cow aesthetic, resulting in tall, narrow animals with little focus on production traits.

Using a GENEadvance® herd improvement programme

Incorporating GENEadvance® into the herd’s breeding strategy meant that all animals born would now be genomic tested, gaining Iain access to crucial information regarding the genetic merit of his heifers in the herd.

The genomic data gives his Genetic Services Specialist, Chloe Watkins, powerful insights into the genetic merit of the females in the herd. Chloe then supports Iain in interpreting the results and transforming them into a customised breeding plan, one which aligns his goals for the farm. This is done so that Iain can make more informed breeding decisions to help reach the herd’s goals faster.

Upon their first genetic review, it was found that their £PLI was sitting at a low £117 on average, with their heifers at a slightly higher £185. As of 2023, this figure has jumped to £422 with their best heifer at £760.

Cows in their fourth lactation currently have a PLI of just £20, which means the new herd coming through will show incredible improvement.

Since using GENEadvance®, the herd has seen a growth of £80 PLI per year on average, demonstrating the success of selective breeding.

To save on costs and improve the efficiency of the herd, Iain has been selecting genetics that will reduce the size of the animals they breed. Doing this has brought the overall maintenance score of the herd down to -3, a huge improvement compared to their original +2 score prior to using GENEadvance®.

Animals born in 2020 were 22kg heavier than the new members of the herd, contributing to a difference of 46kg.

By reducing the size of a cow by just 5kg, they will require 1500kg less feed for maintenance, saving a total average cost of £2400.

Iain McGeoch's GENEadvance® calf

Using a sexed and beef strategy

Using a herd improvement programme has allowed Iain to identify his best performing animals, which will be bred to sexed genetics and the rest to beef to encourage genetic progress. In attempts to increase cow numbers to over 800, the current sexed to beef split is 50/50. The herd currently holds 360 cows in total.

Exclusively using Sexcel®, sexed genetics, on his best animals, Iain has seen outstanding results. This year alone, they saw 200 heifers due to the performance of the sexed product, helping to increase their total population by 100.

Using the best genetics, coupled with their new Ingenuity® system on their heifers, Watchingwell Farms Ltd is generating more pregnancies than ever. Ingenuity® herd monitoring collars are used on their heifer rearing unit to better detect natural heats, rather than using a sync system with a running Angus bull, which saw them missing pregnancies from their high £PLI animals.

Iain explained: “We’re improving because we’re using the best bulls for the cows and we’re using the best cows. If you’re going to rear a heifer, a bad one costs as much as a good one to rear, so you might as well rear a good one.”

As cow numbers are increased on the farm, they plan to increase the proportion of animals that go to beef so that they are breeding from an even more superior pool of genetics.

GENEadvance® calf lying down on straw bedding

Examining results from GENEadvance® genomic data

Since genomic testing animals and receiving the support from Genus ABS’ Genetic Services Specialists and his Breeding Advisor, Nick Tong, Iain has been surprised by some of the results, saying some of the cows they expected to be poor performers, actually turn out to be great.

Iain explained: “I look at a skinny heifer and think ‘I will put that to beef, but it turns out it has 600 £PLI. Then I’ll look at a stumpy one and think, that’ll last a bit longer, but it’s got a £PLI of about 3! £PLI takes everything into consideration.

“As a cow man, I’ll think ‘a heifer like that isn’t going to last too well’ but it’s not about what it looks like, it’s the genetics in it.”

Iain said that using GENEadvance® definitely accelerates genetic progress and emphasises the need to follow the customised breeding plan and support provided by Genetic Services Specialists as part of the package.

Start accelerating your herd’s genetic progress today. Contact your local representative to learn more.

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