Redhouse Holsteins, Benburb, Northern Ireland, has 32 heifers in the top 100 and nine in the top 20, of a UK database of over 12,000 animals which incorporates all aspects of genetics, performance, health and wellness traits in the dairy herd. The Top 100 UK Holstein females for Dairy Wellness Profit Index (DWP®) ranking can be viewed at www.clarifide.co.uk and is updated in April, August and December after each proof run.
The genomic test, CLARIFIDE ® Plus, offered by the leading animal health company, Zoetis, includes a range of 14 cow and calf wellness traits, as well as the Dairy Wellness Profit Index (DWP). The DWP Index allows farmers to better select heifers that will be more productive whilst staying healthy and getting in calf sooner.
David Irwin, who runs the 170 cow Redhouse Holstein herd in partnership with his father, Alan, explained that these leading heifers include Redhouse 2212 Crimson Isa 2 which is number one for milk production in the UK with a figure of 2143 and Redhouse 2181 Free Billy Ada, the top Red Carrier heifer for TPI Index in Europe with an official figure of 2877. She is also the top RC heifer for NM$ Index with a figure of 809.
He added “We have also bred the number 2 DWP heifer in the UK, Redhouse 2235 Cabot Dee, and aim in the future to breed the number 1. These animals will all be flushed so we hope to breed some more future number 1s from them. DWP Index information will be taken into account when selecting sires for flushes.”
Commenting on the background of the herd David explained “The herd was founded in 1977 with bought in animals and initially we relied on milk production figures to make breeding decisions. We then moved on to utilising health traits as they slowly became available over the years, with a strong emphasis on fertility since its inception on bull proofs, but we have never taken our eye off production. We are a milk production herd first and foremost, nothing else matters if the cow doesn’t give plenty of milk.” He added “The herd has been genomic testing females since the introduction of genomic testing into the UK around 8 years ago. More recently we introduced Clarifide Plus which allowed us to use the genetic profile of the female lines to more accurately effect improvements. The introduction of Clarifide Plus was a real boost for breeding decisions as it includes wellness traits which can have a huge influence on herd health and profitability.
“We are all familiar with the success of genomic testing for early identification of high performing young bulls but the introduction of genomic testing of the females in the herd has proved invaluable. Previously we were dependent on parent averages in order to make breeding decisions, but they cannot indicate what genetic material is actually inherited. Genomic testing can supply this information and enable the farmer to effect breeding and management improvements more quickly and accurately.”
Josh Batterham, Ruminant Veterinary Consultant with Zoetis explained: “The addition of the Dairy Wellness Profit Index to Clarifide allows farmers, through a simple tissue sample, to select heifers based on their risk for developing a range of diseases including mastitis, lameness and metritis. It will also indicate the likelihood of their calves developing scours and respiratory disease. He went on to say “It is essential that we don’t keep investing in our bottom end heifers that have poor figures for production, health and fertility. Ideally, we would be removing these from the herd as young calves but where numbers don’t allow this, they should be bred to beef or used as embryo recipients. Genetic selection with Clarifide Plus, along with good herd management will help farms to reach their herd health and profitability goals”
Mr Irwin emphasised that Clarifide Plus allows them to make breeding decisions as early as six weeks old and to decide which animals to retain as replacements. Each year they sell 60 to 70 surplus heifers at this stage after rearing on ad lib automatic milk feeders. As virtually all the calves are in the top one per cent of the Holsteins in the UK based on pounds per litre (PPL), and their management is first class, he has many repeat purchasers who value the high health status and the detailed genetic information which comes with them. He added
“We operate a closed herd with strict biosecurity and rely on social media and word of mouth rather than shows and sales to promote our stock.”
Referring to the cost of heifer genomic testing, David maintains that you have to take the long-term view. The increased health and productivity that can be selected for with Clarifide Plus more than outweighs the initial cost. Then there is the additional benefit of possible problems being predicted, and the ability to utilise the information down the line to breed out potential problems
The herd is milked three times per day through a 20-point herringbone parlour. The milk production figures for the Redhouse herd in 2020 were 13,229 litres per cow at 4.25% Butterfat and 3.33% Protein. The combined fat and protein figure was 1,003 kilos per cow. David plans to increase the combined fat and protein output of the cows significantly over the next few years, utilising genetics to do so.
In the December proofs, Redhouse Holsteins was the number 14 herd for £PLI Index in the UK and an analysis of the current figures suggests that they will make the top ten and possibly the top five in the April proof run.