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"Another step towards banishing the unwanted dairy bull calf"

"Another step towards banishing the unwanted dairy bull calf"

Published in the June edition of British Dairying and written by Ann Hardy on behalf of Cogent. 

A newly launched sexed semen calculator will identify whether avoiding unwanted dairy bull calves through the use of sexed semen, will give the required return on investment for any particular herd. 

Producing unwanted dairy bull calves is increasingly unacceptable on UK farms and pressure to avoid them altogether - whether from consumers, welfarists or the farming industry itself - is gaining momentum.

In the face of this pressure, the relaunch of Cogent's acclaimed Sexed Semen Calculator provides a timely addition to the farmer's breeding armoury and will help determine whether investment in sexed semen will provide sufficient financial payback in any particular herd.

The company first launched the calculator around five years ago, but since that time, the technology of sexing semen has gradually advanced, to the extent that today, dairy producers are achieving such good conception rates with sexed semen that they are on a par with those from the conventional, unsexed product.

This not only means that avoiding unwanted dairy-breed calves is realistic on any dairy farm, it also opens the opportunity for the farm to improve its cash flow by producing high quality beef-cross calves from a larger proportion of the dairy herd.

Knowing the precise financial value of making the switch to today's high quality sexed semen, known as SexedULTRA 4M - which packs four million female sperm cells into each straw - is important for farm planning, and it is this calculation which is carried out by the Sexed Semen Calculator.

"The calculator provides a completely bespoke answer for each farm's situation, taking account of factors such as the farm's heifer replacement rate, the number of straws currently used for every conception, and the price of calves sold," says Sion Parry, Cogent's technical development manager. "These factors can vary widely from farm to farm, so the package will identify how much payback there will be from the investment in sexed semen in any given situation," he says. 

Industry averages from sources such as AHDB Dairy will be used as defaults, but if the farmer wishes to over-write these with his own figures - for example, with the price he receives for calves at his local market - then these can be used to create a more bespoke calculation.

"This way, the farmer can obtain a genuine assessment of whether it's worth switching to 4M sexed semen for female breeding replacements and high quality beef semen for the rest of the herd," he says. Taking account of the number of straws used per conception on that particular farm, the calculator will determine how worthwhile the switch would be. 

"We are confident the return on investment will be large but would like farmers to be reassured that in their particular circumstance this is the case," says Mr Parry. "However, for a typical 8,000 litre 200-head herd, we have calculated that the extra profit to be gained from using sexed and beef semen over conventional semen and beef would be £11,225. This equated to 0.7ppl and a return on investment 8:1."

"Of course, there could be situations in which the farmer has an excellent outlet for his pure dairy bull calves or is struggling with poor fertility and too many straws per conception to make it worthwhile. But by undertaking the calculation, any decision can be based on a proper evaluation of the facts rather than a stab in the dark," he says.

Mr Parry's confidence comes, in particular, from that fact that 4M semen has been shown, through extensive trial data, to give significantly improved conception rates over the former, 2M sexed semen, which contained two million sperm cells per straw. 

"The SexedULTRA 4M product is providing to be so successful that we now have producers who are using it on their best milking  cows, as well as their maiden heifers," he says. "Before we had this product, we would generally have recommended the use of sexed semen on maiden heifers only." 

Further benefits this brings include significantly increased selection pressure within the herd, and a noticeable increase in genetic improvement. "The bonus of faster genetic gain hasn't yet been built into the Cogent Sexed Semen Calculator but is a very real advantage and could well make the financial rewards add up to over a penny per litre,"says Mr Parry. "

Furthermore, if the option is taken to breed more dairy heifers from a farm's top genetics, there is the potential to add heifer sales to the farm's income. "We know some dairy producers are anxious to avoid producing animals which have no value and we're delighted to think the latest sexed semen technology, along with this Sexed Semen Calculator, will help more of them reach the point at which they can avoid unwanted dairy bull calves on their farms altogether," he says.