The first RISS group: Speeding up dairy breeding

Picture: Speeding up Breeding group L-R Rory Christie, Graham Armstrong and Charlie Russell. Credit: Dan Baillie

"We need to speed up breeding. If I had a herd of the best cows, all my worries would be over.”

Our first group brings together three grass-based dairy farmers in Dumfries and Galloway and South Ayrshire. Having run out of innovative ways to produce more for less in today’s volatile market, they want to harness genetics to improve the quality of their herds.

One farmer believes doing so could bring in as much as £200,000 extra per farm per year. It could also, he believes, reduce the time it takes to get a good cow back into the herd from five years to two.

Rory Christie, of Dourie Farm near Port William, explains: “If you use exactly the same system but Cow A produces twice as much milk as Cow B, it must be because of her genetics."

He outlines what his RISS group - along with fellow members Graham Armstrong of Kirvennie Farm, Wigtown, and Charlie Russell of Glenapp Estate, Girvan - would like to do.

“We need to, first, be able to identify the genetic make-up of our cross-bred cattle, starting with being sure of the parentage.

Picture: Rory Christie on Dourie Farm, near Port William. Credit: Dan Baillie

“Secondly, we need to combine it with an effective ranking system using our own data.

“Thirdly, we need to find an economical system of embryo transfer, so we get 10 calves from that one cow, keep the calves and get them back into the herd more quickly. We need to speed up breeding. If I had a herd of the best cows, all my worries would be over.”

To this end, the group's facilitator Hamish Walls, a project manager from the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), is  recruiting a geneticist, a data specialist and an agricultural scientist to complete the group.

“I’ve done everything I can to produce more for less, and it’s still not enough”

Along with Charlie and Graham, Rory already uses various innovative farming practices such as lean farming. “I’ve done everything I can now to reduce costs and produce for less, and it’s still not enough,” he says.

“At the moment my farm, and dairy production in Scotland in general, struggles to be profitable enough to survive. Yet by doing this, I would increase my annual milk volume per cow by 1000 litres – that’s £200,000 extra income per year on my farm.”

He also believes the group's work could have benefits beyond the three farms, including for the Scottish beef industry. "Improving genetic technology, so that sexed semen becomes more available and affordable, could help solve the problem of redundant bull calves," he says.

“If dairy farmers used genetic testing, combined with data, we could replace poorer cows at a quicker rate and produce the best dairy herd. The cows we then don’t need for dairy can then be bred for beef, by using sexed beef semen. The abattoir industry needs more livestock: at the moment the future of the entire Scottish beef industry is in question. That beef could come from dairy.”

 

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“If you use exactly the same system but Cow A produces twice as much milk as Cow B, it must be because of her genetics." Dairy farmer Rory Christie
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