Selecting bulls for a better block

A focus on breeding at Bridge Farm helped them move into the top 5% of autumn block herds ranked by genetic merit.

Since transitioning the herd to autumn calving in 2016, Bridge Farm owner David Cotton has worked with herd manager Steve Crowther and breeding consultant Keith Gue to develop a herd more suited to his system.

A legacy of breeding decisions made when the herd calved all year round meant that fertility and lifespan was less of a focus. David was keen to redress this as well as breeding smaller, stronger cows that eat less, maintain production and are more suited to a block system.

The first step was to review their herd genetic report to identify strengths and weakness within the herd and choose which bulls to serve to dairy and which to beef.

Keith then selected high performing £ACI bulls and narrowed down the options choosing those in the top 10% for lifespan, fertility and maintenance. This approach meant that they didn’t necessarily have to select bulls in the top 5–10% overall, which in turn reduced costs. They placed less emphasis on high-yielding bulls as they hadn’t seen an uplift from previous trials.

“While yield is always a consideration, it is definitely not the main driver for our selections,” said David. “Double-digit fertility, life span and a reduction in body weight now means we get healthier, more fertile cows that eat less while maintaining production. In turn, that helps the farm be more sustainable.”

David and Steve are using more sexed semen on their maiden heifers as they feel the conception results have improved a lot over the last two years. Once they achieve 80–90 replacement heifers, everything else is served to Aberdeen Angus. They are likely to use sexed semen on the cows next year to help reduce the number of bull calves.

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