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Gene Ireland is the name given to the national dairy breeding programme and is a key component of the Irish Dairy Industry. The aim of Gene Ireland is to provide dairy farmers with new genetics through a coordinated progeny test programme.

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. The ICBF target good data recording herds, allocate the bull teams and collect the relevant phenotypic information to produce genetic evaluations for these animals. The programme collects data efficiently by having a direct link between the farmer and the national database.

What’s Involved?

Semen is distributed to participating herds in ‘packs of straws’ through sales reps and AI technicians. Farmers that use semen from these sires are committed to recording data, such as, insemination dates, sire details and calving surveys, etc. For most farmers, this information is already being recorded so little additional work is required. Participating herds must also be engaged in milk recording as a requirement.

This ensures that these sires achieve high reliabilities in as short a time frame as possible. These sires can then be used in the genomic reference population, further increasing the reliabilities of genomic proofs, as well as being identified as potential sires of the next generation of elite young bulls.

A national progeny testing 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.

Since the formation of the programme in 2005, it has contributed significantly to the increased rate of genetic gain in the national dairy herd.


Benefits of the programme for farmers

The main benefits for farmers include excellent value for money, only 8.50 per straw, access to the next generation of genetics and the opportunity to be involved in a programme that is delivering real benefits to for the dairy Industry.

Contribution of the next generation

Participating herds are also a source of genetics for the breeding programme. 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 finding young animals for the breeding programme.

Why Use Gene Ireland Bulls?

From 2005-2014 Dairy G€N€ IR€LAND® bulls have delivered an estimated €203 million to the Irish dairy industry. Milk solids have increased by 54.6kg, while calving interval has reduced by 27 days and cow survival has increased by 4.6%. Compared with 2005, when the programme was first launched, farmers are now €550/lactation more profitable.

Contribution of Gene Ireland Bulls

To date, 739 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%. Collecting phenotypic data is a vital element of the programme as it increases reliability and reinforces the effectiveness of genomic evaluations. Foreign sires dominated the active bull list in the early years (graph 2). Over time, sires were increasingly sourced domestically. The fact that, today, over 90% of sires tested through the programme are Irish bred, is testament to the success of Dairy Gene Ireland.

Spring Programme 2019

For this year’s programme, the target is to test 80 young Genomic bulls. The breed packs available this year are Holstein-Friesian, Pure Friesian and a Multi-Breed pack. The Multi-Breed pack is a combination of HO/FR, Jersey and Jersey crossbreds. Straws are available in packs of 25 (5 bulls x 5 straws) 35 (5 bulls x 7 straws) and 50 (5 bulls x 10 straws). The average EBI of the Holstein/Friesian, Pure-Friesian and Multi-breed packs are €307, €156 and €225 respectively. The cost is only €8.50 per straw. If you are interested, contact ICBF on 023 8820452 or your breeding advisor. Farmer participation in the programme is essential for continued progress to be made.