Top Tips for semen purchase decisions
Choosing which bulls to breed from and buying semen is one of the most important decisions on farm as it shapes your herd for years to come. Here's our guidance to help you get the most from the process.
There are three stages to buying semen - preparation, purchase and review - and each is important to ensure you're getting the most from your decisions.
Here are our tops tips to help guide you through the process:
- Assess your herd’s strengths and weaknesses - this can be done by using the Herd Genetic Report if you are fully milk recording. However, no matter your milking recording status, physical on farm data (mastitis, lameness etc. incidences) and benchmarking parameters will also help to assess strengths and weaknesses
- Set a breeding goal - this should highlight the desired outcome of your herd’s performance in 5-10 years’ time, taking consideration of aspects such as; production system and milk contract requirements.
- Set priorities - set 3 key priorities that are achievable (consider the amount of change needed), have visible results and will have a positive return. Which areas of weakness that have been identified during point 1 will have the most impact in terms of management and productivity? These are the areas to look at first, don’t try to do everything at once.
- What specific area does your herd need to develop and what your aspirations? E.g.
- Reduce incidences of lameness as this area of your herds health uses the most amount of medicine
- You want to improve your herd's fertility so that it can start to look at using sexed semen
- You want to alter your herd's fat and protein % so that it is better positioned to change or maximise milk contracts
- How much semen and of what type do you need to purchase? Decide how much conventional, sexed semen and beef semen needs to be purchased. Our Semen Usage Calculator can help.
- Which economic index applies to your herd? £PLI, £SCI, £ACI – if you're unsure our handy guide will help
- Only ever use bulls in the top 50% of the appropriate economic index. – our Breeding & Genetics section lists the top 25% and 50% by economic index
- From the top 50%, select bulls that meet your herd’s key priorities but ensure that their current strengths are maintained, it is also important to ensure that bulls used on maiden heifers always have a high direct calving ease Predicted Transmitting Ability (PTA)
- Run all decisions through an inbreeding checker, this will check how related all available bulls are to your herd. Individual bulls can then be selected, based on genetic merit and inbreeding suitability, ensuring any mating problems between bulls and cows have been flagged up
- At the start of any conversation set the scene by outlining the breeding goal and key priorities of your herd, cow numbers and the amount of dairy (conventional and sexed semen) and beef bulls you need to use
- Always check if a suggested bull has independently validated AHDB figures. And if not why not?
- Given your herd breeding strategy and priorities, which bulls does the rep suggest you use. Get them to quantify why this bull is appropriate for your herd based on the priorities. Always ask why a suggested bull is right for your herd and verify the data before purchase
- Using the data from the Herd Genetic Report during conversations with the semen rep can be another way to guide the conversation by visually identifying the key priorities you have identified and refer back to confirm that bulls are right for your herd
- Review the meeting/conversation with the semen rep as soon as possible after it has taken place - what areas went particularly well? What areas could have gone better and are there any further questions that need asking? What other questions could have been asked? What things would you like to happen next time? Make a note of any answers that come from these questions and others for the next semen rep visit
- Is the semen in the tank fit for purpose? Does the semen fit the priorities that have been set and always make sure that the most up to date figures are used to check this
- As often as you buy semen a review of the priorities is needed. Has a new priority overtaken the current ones due to improvements or are the priorities still the same?
- Did the current replacements come from your herd’s best cows? If you used conventional semen across your herd, did you get your heifer calves from the better or poorer genetic females? If it’s from the poorer genetic females consider using sexed semen on your superior females to ensure you are breeding your replacements from them. If you used sexed semen but bred from females who, now that they have calved are not the superior genetics that they were on Pedigree Index calculation, consider genomically testing your youngstock to ensure that you are breeding your replacements from the genetically superior younger animals in your herd.