- Critical handling data for temperament, milking speed, breeding values
- Need more farmers to report key traits
- Simple process to complete through herd registration systems
Do you have less fussing cows in the dairy? Faster milkers? Is your herd pleasant to milk? If so, you might want to thank previous generations of dairy farmers for collecting herd manageability data.
It is these on-farm recorded observations of traits such as milking speed, temperament and likability that help industry herd improvement organization DataGene develop Australian Breeding Values (ABVs) for these attributes.
But in recent years, fewer farmers have chosen to collect and submit workability data, a worrying trend for DataGene.
DataGene stakeholder relations specialist Peter Thurn said farmers who scored manageability traits helped the industry identify “ordinary” animals, which contributed to the accuracy of ABVs.
“People take it for granted that we have calm cows and fast milking heifers,” he said. “This has not always been the case and will not continue to be so unless the industry increases its collection of drivability data.
“Despite the great strides we’ve made in handling performance, we continue to pass odd bulls with poor ratings, so we need to keep adding data to the system to prevent this.
“Traits such as milking speed and temperament are validated very quickly using on-farm observations, which is why DataGene is encouraging more farmers to record working abilities.
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Western Australian dairy farmer Jacqui Biddulph milks 420 registered Holsteins with her family in Cowaramup near Margaret River and has been recording handling characteristics for 26 years.
“It’s still very important, despite huge advances in genetics and science,” she said.
“At the end of the day, a farmer still has to want to milk that cow. Also, if a cow scores high on likeability, she’ll stick around.”
What you don’t see
But measuring the effects of handling recording on the modern dairy animal is more about what isn’t seen than what is seen, Ms Biddulph said.
“If you like them, they’re easy to manage in the shed, they come and go and nobody notices – she’s just doing her job,” she said.
“I remember – over the years – the cows that were slowly cheating, in particular, or those cows that were shaking and dancing in the dairy when you put cups on. But a lot of those cows, they don’t show up anymore.”
The Biddulph family takes a simple view of handling rating.
“Either we like them or we don’t,” Ms Biddulph said. “If we don’t like them, we’ll rate them.”
A prompt in their herd management software reminds the family to record the handling characteristics of fresh heifers. Ms Biddulph said that once a heifer had reached a certain number of lactation days, a reminder would pop up on her computer screen every time she turned it on.
We like them or we don’t like them. If we don’t like them, we’ll rate them.
She said it was not a tedious task, considering the benefits it brought to the herd improvement industry.
All two-year-old heifers should be scored for working ability, and this can be reported through the HerdData app, Easy Dairy, Mistro Farm or directly to a herd testing center.
The handling trait scoring is an evaluation of each individual heifer. For example, to signal appreciation, farmers are asked if they would like more cows like the one they are rating, and then given a range of responses from “definitely” to “definitely not”.
It’s similar when measuring milking speed – the range is from “very fast” to “very slow”.
The HerdData app gives farmers a selection of words to choose from to score each heifer’s temperament. These include placid, calm, average, nervous or very nervous.
Handling characteristics are included in DataGene’s Balanced Performance Index (BPI) and Health-Weighted Index (HWI).
To breed for better handling, look for Good Bulls with handling ABVs above 100. The Good Bulls app allows users to filter for each of the three handling traits.
For more information contact: DataGene 1800 841 848 or [email protected] or www.datagene.com.au.
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