Make smart choices for better breeding in your dairy herd

Friday, 1 September 2023

The success of Willie Fleming’s breeding programme speaks for itself. His milking herd sits in the top 1% for £PLI; predicted transmitting ability (PTA) of kilograms of milk, fat and protein; and our new genetic index EnviroCow.

Willie’s farm Hillhead, near Lockerbie, is home to 370 pedigree Holstein cows, with 330 cows in milk at any one time; these produce an average of 12,800 litres with 4.00% butterfat and 3.35% protein. The milking herd are fully housed in a purpose-built, 320 cubicle shed and are milked with six Lely robots.

Sexed semen is used on 80% of the herd with the remaining 20% put to beef. With a replacement rate of 27%, Willie consciously breeds more replacements than he needs, genomically testing youngstock to inform his decisions about which heifers will be entering the milking herd.

Willie uses our Herd Genetic Report and bull proofs, alongside Lely’s own data, to make informed breeding decisions. He said:

“We started testing some of our own cows in 2010 and began using genomic tested bulls around the same time.

“I enjoy understanding the numbers and the rankings and like to use the up-and-coming bulls before too many other people have discovered them!”

Willie has clear goals for the herd and knows which traits he is looking for as part of his breeding programme. He continued:

“During the past 10 years, we’ve really focused on breeding for a longer lifespan.

“This allows us to be more selective in the ones that we keep.”

A good number of healthy, older cows in the milking herd is one of Willie’s measures of success.

“More than 10% of the herd are in their fifth lactation or more, and I’m looking to maintain that. Some of our fourth- and fifth-lactation cows are our highest yielding. Our heifers average between 11,000 and 12,000 litres, a second calver perhaps 14,000 litres, but the older ones produce 16,000 or 17,000 litres.”

Bulls need to have a £PLI score over 800 to be selected for the Hillhead herd.

“They also need to have good scores for yield and constituents, which ties in with our contact.”

Despite his success, Willie is conscious of the challenges ahead:

“In the past four years or so we’ve really focused on using bulls with traits that will breed daughters that are suited to the robots, as well as slowly reducing the stature of the herd while maintaining milk yield. This should help us increase our maintenance scores and further improve our environmental credentials.”

Understanding the data of his herd has been a vital part of Willie’s success. His advice to those wanting to better understand the genetics of their herd is to start to look at their own herd genetic report.

“Knowing where your herd is to begin with is vital. Only then can you look at the characteristics you want to improve and decide what you are aiming for. This will help to work through the available options and select the bulls that are best suited to breed cows that suit the system and your dairy-business goals.”

Unlock your herd's hidden breeding potential

Discover the untapped potential in your herd at one of 24 workshops running across GB from August to November. Designed for anyone with a milk recorded herd, in these workshops we’ll reveal hidden gems in your herd’s data and you’ll walk away with a tailored report that will take your breeding decisions to the next level.

Find your nearest workshop and book now