Bryan Kingston (ICBF) explains the role of the national breeding programme in the Irish dairy Industry

Gene Ireland is the name of the national dairy breeding programme in Ireland and it forms an extremely important part of the Dairy Industry. The aim of the programme is to provide dairy farmers with the best genetics through a coordinated progeny test programme. Now in its 17th year, the program has delivered over €200 million to Irish dairy farmers through increased genetic gain.

A national breeding programme is essential to ensure there is a supply of top genetic bulls from a wide range of high EBI sires for farmers to choose from each year. This will allow farmers to increase profitability from breeding over time. The success of the programme is built on the national cattle breeding data which stores information across many traits for millions of animals as well as the collaboration of many industry stakeholders. The programme collects data efficiently by having a direct link between the farmer and the national database. Since the formation of the programme in 2005, it has contributed significantly to the increased rate of genetic gain in the national dairy herd. This can be clearly seen in the graph below.

How it works?

Young genomic sires are put forward to the programme by the participating AI companies. These young bulls are sourced from Irish farms and are all from high genetic merit sires and dams. Semen from these high EBI sires is distributed to participating herds in ‘packs of straws’ through sales reps and AI technicians. Farmers that use these straws must partake in milk recording and recording high levels of data, such as, insemination dates, sire details, calving surveys and to provide any health information as it becomes available on daughters of these bulls. This ensures that these sires achieve high reliabilities in as short a time frame as possible. For most farmers, this information is already being recorded so little additional work is needed.

Benefits of the programme for farmers

The main benefits for farmers taking part in the programme include excellent value for money and access to some of the highest EBI young sires available thus speeding up the rate of genetic gain in their own herd. It also gives the opportunity to be involved in a programme that is delivering real benefits for the dairy Industry. As they are the first farmers to use the highest genetic merit bulls based on genomics, these herds are of great interest to AI companies sourcing young animals for the breeding programme.

Contribution of Gene Ireland Bulls

To date, almost 850 bulls have been tested through Dairy Gene Ireland, with over 400,000 straws distributed across several thousand herds. Bulls tested through Dairy Gene Ireland have contributed over 18,000 milk recorded daughters, achieving an average EBI reliability of 81%. The on-going collection of data is vital for the accuracy of genetic and genomic evaluations for dairy bulls. The information gathered by participating herds will usually form the basis of the first proof for AI bulls. Getting an accurate first proof is essential as these sires can then be used in the genomic training population, further increasing the reliabilities of genomic proofs, as well as being identified as potential sires of the next generation of elite young bulls. Foreign sires dominated the active bull list in the early years. Over time, sires were increasingly sourced domestically. The fact that, today, over 90% of sires tested through the programme are Irish bred, which can be seen in the graph below, is an indication to the success of Dairy Gene Ireland.

Spring Programme 2021

For this year’s programme, the target is to test over 100 young Genomic bulls. The breed packs available are Holstein-Friesian, Pure Friesian and a Multi-Breed pack. The Multi-Breed pack is a combination of Holstein/Friesian and Jersey crossbred bulls. Straws are available in packs of 35 (5 bulls x 7 straws), 49 (7 bulls x 7 straws), 70 (7 bulls x 10 straws and 100 (10 bulls x 10 straws), with packs then made available up to a maximum of 35% of your dairy straw requirement. The breed packs and the average EBI details available are as follows:

In short

• G€N€ IR€LAND® programme efficiently captures information on traits of economic importance for use in genetic evaluations of dairy bulls.
• Since 2005, the programme has contributed significantly to the increase rate of genetic gain in the national dairy herd.
• The cost is only €12 per straw and the average pack EBI of the Ho/Fr bulls is €200 more than the national herd average.
• If you would like to take part in the programme or if you have any questions, please call the ICBF HerdPlus Team on 023 8820452