ICBF, Teagasc and partner AI companies (Dovea Genetics, Munster Cattle Breeding and Progressive Genetics) undertook a major field research trial this Spring, to evaluate the potential benefits of sexed semen under commercial Irish conditions. The project was carried out in conjunction with Sexing Technologies, who hold the global licence for sexing livestock semen. Financial support for the project is being provided by ICBF, Teagasc and the partner AI companies, as well as industry stakeholders, namely the Agricultural Trust, Anglo Beef Processors, Dawn Meats, Kepak group and Slaney Meats.
The technology is revolutionising cattle breeding in other developed dairying countries, where an increasing number of virgin heifers (and cows) are now being mated to sexed semen. In addition, latest results from New Zealand suggest that, when used as a fresh semen product, sexed semen can be effectively used on lactating cows, with only a minor reduction in female fertility performance. However, all of these trends and results are based on field data from other countries. To be confident regarding the potential of this new technology, we needed to evaluate its performance under commercial spring-calving production systems in Ireland. Hence the need for the trial.
Over 15,000 inseminations on 394 farms were carried out on lactating cows and virgin heifers as outlined in Figure 1.
In addition to the projected increased rate of herd expansion, use of sexed semen may also reduce the incidence of calving difficulty (heifer calves are lighter than male calves), and improve biosecurity by allowing farmers to increase herd size while maintaining a closed herd. Use of sexed semen will reduce the number of low-value male dairy calves born, and hence could make Jersey cross-breeding more attractive. After adequate heifers have been generated at the start of the breeding season, use of Y-sorted semen (male offspring) from easy-calving short-gestation beef bulls provides an opportunity to increase the value of beef output from the dairy herd.