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The Dairy Gene Ireland Programme is a key component of the Irish dairy industry. Its aim is to provide dairy farmers with the highest EBI young sires through a coordinated progeny test programme. It has been a significant contributor to the increase in genetic gain in the national dairy herd over the last 10 years.

The programme was established in 2005 and foreign sires dominated the list in the early years (graph 1). Over time, sires were increasingly sourced domestically. The fact that, today, over 95% of sires tested through the programme are Irish bred, is testament to the success of Dairy Gene Ireland.

Graph 1. Countries of origin for sires tested through Gene Ireland annually. In 2017, over 95% of sires were Irish bred.

Sires are put forward to the programme by the participating AI companies. Semen is then distributed to participating herds in ‘packs of straws’. These packs vary depending on herd size and breed preference. Farmers that use semen from these sires are committed to recording high levels of data, such as, insemination dates, calving surveys, etc. Participating herds must also be engaged in milk recording as a prerequisite. 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.

Since its inception in 2005, 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. To date, 739 bulls have been tested through Dairy Gene Ireland, with over 400,000 straws distributed to 2,316 unique herds (see table 1).

Table 1. Details of each year of the Dairy Gene Ireland Programmes 2005-2018.
Table 2. Impact of Gene Ireland, In terms of Key Graduates from the programme each year. *Based on 455 bulls with more than 300 straws dispatched through Gene Ireland. EBI taken from proof run (December 2017).
Table 3. Gentic Gain delivered from Gene Ireland (2005-2017). *Based on 455 bulls with more than 300 straws dispacthed through Gene Ireland. EBI** taken from proof run ( December 2017).
Table 4. Trends in phenotypic performance of sires* from the Gene Ireland programme (2005-2014) *Based on sires with more than 300 straws distributed in the relevant year. **Both first and subsequent crop progeny included in calculation for each sire. Average across sires.

Gene Ireland tested bull’s vs all other dairy AI bull’s.

Recent analysis of trends in the dairy progeny testing programme show significant advantages in terms of reliabilities for bulls tested through Dairy Gene Ireland than those that are not. Bulls involved in the study were all Irish bred AI bulls with more than 20 progeny and born from 2004 onwards.

Bulls were compared on the following:

  • Calving difficulty records
  • Calving difficulty reliability
  • EBI reliability
  • Number of milk recorded daughters
2 groups in current comparisons.
Graph 2. The median number of calving records collected, and therefore used in ICBF evaluations, for the groups of bulls. The median was used instead of the mean as a few bulls were very highly used.
Graph 3. The average reliability for calving difficulty for each group of bulls at different ages
Graph 4. Average EBI reliability at different ages for each group of bulls.
Graph 5. The number of milk recorded daughters that the median bull has in each group. The more milk recorded daughters the higher the reliability.

Contribution of Gene Ireland.

From 2005-2014 Dairy Gene Ireland 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. The recent analysis clearly shows that bulls tested through the Gene Ireland programme achieve higher reliabilities in a shorter period of time.

The close collaboration of all industry partners will be key to maintaining and enhancing the programme in the future. Farmer participation in the programme is essential for continued progress to be made. We look forward to working with our industry partners and farmers to continue building on the gains already made.