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Artificial Breeding

Artificial Breeding

The dairy industry is one of New Zealand's biggest export earners. Profit in dairying is made from producing and selling milk from dairy cows. Before a cow can produce milk she must first get pregnant and give birth.

Producing milk therefore calls for two basic things :

1. getting cows in-calf (pregnant); and  

2. feeding the cows well so they produce milk of the right quality and in the right quantity wanted by local and world markets.

They also have to get in calf again so they can continue to produce milk for their owner - and for the dairy industry.

New Zealand dairy cows are largely fed on grass. They are pregnant for around 9 months. Traditionally most cows calve (give birth) in the late winter or early spring, generally between July and September, with those cows being milked through into autumn. In addition, some farmers choose to be 'winter milk farmers', calving their cows in the late summer and autumn to produce milk through the winter months.

Cows are mated between one and three months after calving. They continue to calve each year for life, their first pregnancy generally happens when they are around 2 years old (when they are known as heifers).

This site is about how New Zealand's 13,000 farmers get their 3.5 million cows in calf each year so they calve over a 10 week period.

It's a tall order, achieved through artificial breeding.

LIC has led dairy herd improvement in New Zealand since the early 1900s. Today it is the country's largest artificial breeding company. Three out of every four cows in New Zealand are sired by a LIC bull!

Learn and Understand

Over the following pages, learn how LIC leads the field in herd improvement and creates wealth for pastoral dairy farmers.
Discover what the purchase of one crop of young bull calves results in, with the completed lactation of their first offspring some five years later.

You'll learn why and how artificial breeding was developed back in the 1930s, how artificial breeding bulls are selected and bred today and how their semen is collected and inseminated into cows.

Whether you live in the city or the country you should find this a fascinating because everybody benefits from a vibrant dairy industry - and our industry is one of the most vital in the world because LIC's artificial breeding service drives the rate of genetic gain (improvement) which means this year's cows will be better than their mothers. We all benefit from a strong dairy industry because of the revenue generated through the production of millions of litres of milk and sale of milk products.

Let's begin …

Which term is right - artificial breeding or artificial insemination?

 The terms artificial insemination and artificial breeding refer to the same thing - the collection of semen from a male and its placement in the reproductive tract of the female to cause pregnancy. Overseas the term artificial insemination (or AI) is used. Here in New Zealand, we use the term artificial breeding (or AB).

Artificial breeding began, in New Zealand, in the late 1940s. It was one of a number of methods being used to get more production from dairy cows. The other methods included herd testing (measuring the amount of milk produced by a cow and testing the components of that milk) and herd recording (recording the parentage and other traits of cows).
The reason for artificial breeding was twofold - bull management and improving cow production - described in a sire survey conducted in 1936 which said that around 37% of bulls actually lowered milk production! Globally there was an urgency for artificial breeding to answer the problems caused by shortage of top sires and reproductive diseases that caused abortions.

In those days, dairy farms carried bulls with a ratio of around 1 bull to every 25 cows. Herds were small, averaging around 60 to 80 cows, requiring 2 or 3 bulls for the spring mating period. Farmers experienced all sorts of problems running bulls - from fighting between bulls competing for a cow's attention, to broken gates and fences, spread of disease (cattle can suffer sexually transmitted diseases which affect health and fertility) and bull fertility. With natural mating a farmer usually does not know how good (fertile) a bull is until his cows are checked for pregnancy - and then it's usually too late meaning those cows will calve later than their herd mates the following calving season. (Farmers want their cows to calve within a concentrated period. Cows are pregnant for 9 months leaving only 3 months to get pregnant again - if there are any delays during this 3 month period it puts the cow outside the optimum (best) calving pattern for the herd).

In addition to the health and management problems associated with natural mating, farmers also had extra costs associated with purchasing or leasing bulls coupled with the cost of grazing them - taking grass from cows which could otherwise convert that grass into profit (milk). Not to mention personal risk to farmers from handling the occasional wild bull!

Artificial breeding provided an answer to these problems with the added attraction of getting progeny (young stock) from some of the best bulls in the world. Not surprisingly, farmers were keen to make use of this new science which promised so much in terms of farm management and herd improvement.

Early research into Artifical Breeding

In 1939 research into artificial breeding began in Ruakura, Hamilton funded by the NZ Dairy Board and led by Dr John James. This AB centre was the forerunner of today's Livestock Improvement Corporation.
LIC is the largest artificial breeding company in New Zealand. Its research and technologies have led the development of AB around the world and made the rate of genetic gain (improvement) that New Zealand enjoys which one of the highest in the world.

Artificial breeding, or AB, results in the semen from one bull with superior genes being inseminated into thousands of cows each year - compared to a mere hundred if he was simply a herd bull, siring one calf from each cow in the herd each year by natural mating.
Artificial breeding sires are bred from the best genetics from New Zealand and around the world and their use in New Zealand has, over the years, increased the profitability and productivity of dairy cows.

One of New Zealand's most prominent scientists and researchers of cow production, Dr Colin Holmes of Massey University, has been quoted as saying you couldn't farm today with 1950s cows. This simple statement describes the efficiency improvements in 'genetic gain' which have been made over the years through artificial breeding. ('Genetic gain' is the result of breeding increasingly superior bulls to increasingly superior cows and can be measured by the increased milk production of these cows year after year).

The rate of genetic gain is said to be worth 3 kilograms of milksolids per cow per year. A kilogram of milksolids is worth around $4 to the farmer, so each year there is increased value to the farmer of $12 per cow. On a national scale, the value of genetic gain is in the region of $30 million each year.

This level of genetic gain, or improvement, in the national herd would not have happened without the widespread uptake of artificial breeding.

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