It’s a milestone that has been 55 years in the making but took only a split-second to finally happen. With one clamp of a handheld tag punch, LIC’s 10,000th Sire Proving Scheme (SPS) bull calf has been tagged.
The historic event took place on the farm of long-time and esteemed dairy cattle breeders Stewart and Kathryn Anderson of Otewa (near Otorohanga).
“The young bull symbolises the huge contribution the Sire Proving Scheme makes to New Zealand dairy farming,” LIC Chief Executive Wayne McNee says. Today the vast majority of dairy cows grazing NZ pastures are from LIC bloodlines.
The herd improvement co-operative’s SPS scheme got underway in 1961 when New Zealand dairy farmers banded together to selectively breed the best bulls for the dairy industry. That work continues to this day, with LIC working closely with farmers to identify and develop the best prospects.
The tagging of the new young bull calf signals LIC purchasing him, after selecting him based on his genetic potential. He has been named Arkan MGH Believer. Over the next few years he’ll be treated like animal royalty at LIC’s Newstead bull farm. The little guy could grow to a 1000kg beast.
If as a young bull, his resulting daughters end up as high performing dairy cows in terms of efficiency and productivity, he will ‘graduate’ to LIC Premier Sires status. Premier Sires are LIC’s very top bulls.
He’ll then have his semen distributed and inseminated in to thousands of cows across the national herd. Potentially he’ll be worth millions of dollars to LIC (which is owned by New Zealand dairy farmers) and to the national economy - by contributing to driving up genetic gain in the national dairy herd.
“It’s lovely of LIC to have chosen this farm to tag its 10,000th SPS animal,” says Kathryn Anderson. “It was really exciting for the co-operative to mark the occasion, and we felt quite humbled at having the honour and recognition of LIC marking the milestone here.”
Simon Worth, LIC Bull Acquisition Manager, says tagging the calf marks a significant milestone in the co-operative’s history. “The calf stems from an amazing cow with a formidable reputation in terms of her powerful cow family, conformation and breeding worth. The calf’s sire, Mourne Grove Hothouse, is one of LIC’s very best bulls, siring many outstanding daughters.”
Kathryn’s husband, Stewart, pays tribute to the Sire Proving Scheme farmers who help ‘prove’ the worth of the bull genetics, and therefore make performance improvement of the national dairy herd possible.
“Sire proving through the use of daughter-proofs is essential. Genomics (genetic research into an animal’s traits using its DNA) tells you the story of a bull’s potential future performance, but sire proving tells you what a bull’s actual performance is.”
In both his personal life and professional life as a breeder, Stewart is a “great believer” in history and heritage, and this is evident in his breeding philosophy:
“I’m a big fan of line breeding – that is, finding the best cow families from which to breed.
“You have to appreciate that this present generation today (bull calves) is only here thanks to the efforts and work of previous generations.”
The Andersons are among the dairy industry’s elite breeders of cow families, having produced scores of LIC Sire Proving Scheme bull calves, and two dozen Holstein-Friesian and KiwiCross™ bulls marketed as either Premier Sires or Alpha Nominated sires.
Stewart says he hopes the 10,000th calf ends up being a “world-beater.”
“I’d like to breed a bull that gets in to the LIC Hall of Fame… I’d like to be a Hall of Fame’er.”
Background: LIC’s Sire Proving Scheme delivers huge value to New Zealand
LIC’s Sire Proving Scheme has a reputation for being among the world’s best. It is a scheme that has been estimated to have already contributed more than $17 billion to the national economy since its inception in 1961.
Before the Sire Proving Scheme was established, thousands of bulls with questionable traits and dubious genetic quality were used to get New Zealand dairy cows in-calf.
In the late 1940s the number of bulls required for natural mating was about 60,000: research shows one-third were superior to their mothers; one-third matched their mother’s performance; and one-third had inferior productive ability. Farmers were merely getting cows in-calf – a far cry from the significant contribution AB delivers today, with LIC’s Premier Sires bulls the cornerstone of those gains.
For instance, 28 of the top 30 sires of all breeds in the industry’s Ranking of Active Sires (RAS) List are LIC’s, according to the 5 November 2016 RAS List.
Over the past 23 years, LIC genetics have contributed to an increase in the productivity of NZ dairy cows from 259 kilograms Milk Solids (kg/MS) per cow to 372 Kg/MS per cow.
How does LIC’s Sire Proving Scheme (SPS) work?
Each year LIC creates thousands of cow pregnancies by matching sire semen to specific cows owned by farmers throughout New Zealand. These are known as ‘contract matings’ and are based on what is known about the bull and cow. LIC does this with a view to purchasing approximately 200 bull calves as part of its annual intake for its Sire Proving Scheme.
If born a bull, LIC checks out its DNA to ensure desirable traits are present in the genetics. LIC then checks out both the mother and the son to ensure its physical traits are desirable, and that the bull calves are in good condition.
Once taken in as part of the Sire Proving Scheme on LIC’s Newstead bull farm, the selected bull must then ‘prove’ his worth or, as farmers know it, his ‘Breeding Worth’ (BW); this is only achievable by surveying the performance of the daughters that he ends up siring through artificial breeding.
If the bull proves his quality through the milking performance of his offspring, and his daughters also have good traits other than production, he can graduate to become a select member of a Premier Sires team (each breed has its own ‘team’).
Collectively, Premier Sires teams are responsible for siring about three out of four dairy cows being milked on New Zealand dairy farms today.