Staffordshire family accelerate herd performance

GENEadvance® herd improvement Calves

A family in Staffordshire have been utilising GENEadvance®, a new herd improvement programme, which uses female genomic testing to accelerate herd performance. They are now ranked 34th in the top 50 £PLI heifer herds in the UK by AHDB.

Neil Swift and his daughter Lauren operate the dairy set-up at Red House Farm in Staffordshire with their wider family. The farm spreads over 1,500 acres and holds 560 milking cows plus additional youngstock. They also have 500 acres of cereals combined with a sheep operation which oversees the lambing of 3,400 breeding ewes and the intake of 12,000 store lambs.

The herd is milked twice a day in a rotary parlour and has an average yield of 9,300 litres per year. All milk is sold to Meadow Foods who pay one quarter of a penny per 0.1% of fat provided. Their milk buyer requires their somatic cell count to read below 200, placing emphasis on the health of their herd.

How has GENEadvance® improved herd performance?

Prior to using genomic testing, the Swift family struggled with data accuracy and milk production. Neil Swift explained: “Our herd was never particularly milky, but we are getting there now (with GENEadvance®.) We’ve got heifers doing well.”

When explaining the importance of genomic data when making breeding decisions, Neil said: “You can’t tell (how well they will perform) by looking at them, information is the key to everything.”

When their Genus ABS Breeding Advisor, David Gough, recommended using GENEadvance®, a herd improvement package with personalised breeding plans and expert support from genetic specialists, the family found their decision to be simple.

“David showed us the figures which showed it would pay for us to do it. It’s a price per heifer but it paid on the return you would get. It was easy enough to see how that would happen.”

high herd performance calf

What was their previous breeding strategy?

Breeding previously took place with the help of a sweeper stock bull, which they later found to actually be hindering the genetic progress of the herd when David showed them their herd genetic review. The traits for the bull turned out to be negative and was therefore forcing the herd to regress in terms of improvement. Neil claimed without the insights provided as part of GENEadvance®, they would never have known.

Before using GENEadvance®, the family would service all heifers in the herd once to sexed semen and would never use sexed genetics on their cows. Their strategy was ‘serve everything once to black and white, and then on to beef.’

Since being on GENEadvance®, the Swift family have taken a different approach with their breeding strategy. Now, their focus is on their heifers. Neil explained that they want to produce their heifer replacements from their genetically superior animals. This is mostly their heifers; however they also breed from their milkers if they rank highly enough.

Neil says he just follows what it says on the personalised breeding plan and now seeks marginal gains. This will add up because his herd is now in a great place already.

Seeking a more efficient herd, they breed their cows to have a smaller stature. Doing so reduces the maintenance intake whilst driving milk production. The smaller cow theory is both better for the environment and overall profit from the herd.

What benefits have they gained from GENEadvance®?

The key benefits of using GENEadvance® so far for the Swift family have been the opportunity to see and read accurate information and data of the herd. Neil said it has enabled them to know what each of their animals is capable of. This has further helped them with their sexed and beef strategy.

Their dairy animals are bred to Sexcel®, Genus ABS’ sexed genetics. Their lower-ranked £PLI animals go to NuEra™ Beef Genetics to ensure easy calving. Neil added: “I think Sexcel® is as good as conventional in terms of fertility, I’ve never really noticed a difference.”

Previously, they relied on the pedigree information of their herd. Since gaining genomic data, the reliability of their figures has increased to 68%.

Their genomically tested heifers are now performing better than ever and are producing more milk. The milk production from their heifers has since increased by four litres per day since using GENEadvance®.

Has GENEadvance® accelerated genetic improvement at Red House Farm?

When asked if they feel GENEadvance® has accelerated genetic improvement in the herd, Neil said: “Yes, simply because it has to. You’re using your best animals because you know who your best animals are.”

His daughter, Lauren, explained: “All heifers get served twice if their £PLI is high enough. If they don’t hold to these services we’ll decide based on age and £PLI whether we go again to Sexcel® or get her in calf with Aberdeen Angus.

“We will enlist the help of our farm vet to sync heifers to make sure everything we want a heifer of is served at least once.”

Another perk for the farm has been their use of the personalised breeding plan. This is put together by their genetics specialist as part of the GENEadvance® package.

When breeding their animals, the Swift family place a large emphasis on £PLI, high milk, positive components and health traits. Neil added: “The breeding plan is very useful. It stops you having to worry about what bull they can have or how good she is.”

The Swift family have full confidence in the support they receive from Genus ABS, as part of the GENEadvance® package. They have grown to depend on the advice given to them by their Genetic Specialist and Breeding Advisor, David Gough, often joking: “It’s David’s herd, we just milk it!”

Using the GENEadvance® app to improve herd performance

The support and expert advice shared with the Swift family from their Genus ABS Specialists has been invaluable.

All genomic data collected from the herd is stored in the GENEadvance® mobile app, which can be accessed from anywhere at any time. Lauren added: “I find the app really interesting!”

Accelerate the genetic progress of your herd today by booking in for a FREE genetic review with one of our Genetic Specialists.

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