Combing genomic data with sexed semen is helping one south-west Victorian dairy operation breed more heifers and diversify their business with beef.
Brothers Chris and Peter Place and Chris' wife Diana have genomic tested up to 95 per cent of their registered Holstein herd.
Milking 400 cows, the Tesbury farmers use the genomic information - including Balanced Performance Index (BPI) rankings - to make breeding decisions.
"We use sexed semen to breed the maiden heifers and the higher value - higher BPI - younger cows," Chris said.
"Then the lower value BPI animals and third returns are joined to beef."
Some conventional dairy semen is still used in the older cows, but thanks to genomics and sexed semen, the Places are breeding replacements from their highest genetic merit animals, and these heifers are arriving at the start of calving.
"With sexed semen, we now have 150 heifer calves a year within six to seven weeks," Chris said.
"It's different from when we used to use conventional semen and get 80 heifer calves dragged out over four months."
Breeding from the top portion of their herd, the Place family has witnessed improvements in their herd's production and fertility during the past three to four years.
Their herd is now ranked number 87 in Australia based on BPI - a sharp improvement from sitting at about 250 just years ago.
For Chris, improving the herd is about "personal pride", but he admitted it was also nice to see average production of more than 550 kilograms of milk solids and improved joining submission rates.
Breeding a portion of their herd to beef has also created a new income stream for the Place family.
"We've got people knocking on the door for beef calves," Chris said.
"But we are going to rear a big number for ourselves."
A long-time DataGene Ginfo herd, the Places have contributed their herd test, health records, and other relevant data to the industry to create Australian Breeding Values and improve the reliability of genomics.
This Ginfo involvement first convinced Chris to genomic test - and he hasn't looked back.
He initially extracted his animal's DNA for genomic testing via tail hair samples, but during COVID-19 Ginfo team couldn't visit farms, so he opted to take tissue samples himself.
Chris said taking "ear-notch" tissue samples was simple, and he now genomically tested calves himself when they are disbudded.
Thanks to genomics, the Place family can make earlier management decisions by receiving information about the BPI of each animal at a young age.
While they've only exported a limited number of heifers, Chris said genomics enables them to select animals they don't want to rear earlier, saving time and money.
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Receiving genomic data early in a heifer's life has also enabled Chris, Diana, and Peter to correct parentage record errors.
Chris said 2pc of their recently genomic tested animals were recorded incorrectly, and thanks to the data, they were able to rectify this.
Using the data for breeding and culling decisions is a "natural progress" for the Place family business.
According to Chris, Diana has long kept "meticulous" records, and the genomic data will add to the information they can already access about their animals.
"Are we making better decisions with all this data? We have to be," Chris said.
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