Gene Ireland is the name given to the Dairy breeding programme in Ireland. An effective breeding programme is necessary to ensure an adequate 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 formation of the Gene Ireland national breeding programme in 2005 has accelerated the rate of genetic gain in EBI.
Gene Ireland Objectives
The key objective of the Dairy Gene Ireland programme is to collect good quality phenotypic information to provide accurate genetic evaluations for dairy bulls. The target is that by year 4 of the programme each bull would have 100 heifer replacements recorded in 100 herds.
Bulls are put forward to the programme by AI companies and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation provide the instruments to target herds, allocate bulls to farmers and collect the relevant phenotypic information for these animals such as milk recording data.The programme gathers data efficiently by having a direct link between the farmer and the national database.
Since the programme was launched in 2005, Gene Ireland bulls have contributed over 18,000 cows to milk recording with an average reliability of 81%. The success of the programme has meant 67 of the top 75 bulls on the active bull list in 2016 are bred from Irish dairy herds. This is from a base of 0 in 2005.
Accuracy of genetic evaluations
The on-going collection of phenotypes 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 a reliable first proof is essential. The benefits of this are that more bulls will be included in the genomic reference population once they are proven and a chance that some of these bulls can be returned as sires of sons. See below the number of Irish Bred bulls that reach EBI reliabilities at 3 years old.
Contribution to 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.
These herds are also attractive from an AI company view as they record very good phenotypes on their cows, with an ever-increasing number of these herds also genotyping all their females.
In addition to providing information for genetic evaluations, participating herds are a vital resource to research institutes conducting field trials, or for the quick collection of new phenotypes.
Requirements for herds to participate in the programme involve milk recording, recording inseminations, sire and calving ease details and providing health information as it becomes available on daughters of these bulls.
2016 Dairy GI Programme Statistics
- 52 Bulls (Holstein/ Friesian, British Friesian Jersey and Jersey/Crossbreds)
- 658 Participating Herds
- 26,785 Straws distributed
- 81% Inseminations recorded
- 94% Calving ease scores recorded