Lockington, Northern Victorian dairyfarmers, Jared and Courtney Ireland, haven't let a limited budget stop them breeding one of Australia's highest genetic merit herds.
"As sharefarmers our herd is our biggest asset and we've built it from scratch," Mr Ireland said. "We started off with a budget of $16/straw. Nowadays our budget for the milking herd averages $20 a straw, and we use more expensive sexed semen over the heifers. But we are still very budget-conscious."
In the past 10 years, the average Balanced Performance Index (BPI) of the Irelands' 420-cow herd, Redmaw Holsteins, has increased from 18 to 118 and it now averages 8000-8500 litre/cow and 3.45 per cent protein.
"Our breeding objectives are very focused on BPI, type, cell count and fertility," Mr Ireland said.
The Irelands were one of 27 dairy farms across Australia that recently underwent detailed analysis by the ImProving Herds project to investigate the contribution of genetics to dairy businesses.
The study showed that even in a high genetic merit herd like the Irelands, the higher BPI cows contribute far more to the farm business than the lower BPI cows.
ImProving Herds found that the top 25 per cent of the Irelands' cows (based on BPI) each contributed $585 more income/cow/year after feed and herd costs than the bottom 25 per cent.
The top cows produced an extra 1338 litres (104kg milk solids) and lasted an extra nine months in the herd.
Mr Ireland said the Good Bulls App made it easy to choose bulls on a budget.
"We use the app to create a short list of bulls based on BPI and our priority traits, then we filter for traits such as milking speed and temperament," he said.
"We make the final selection by looking at catalogues, price and pedigree.
"You don't need a big budget to build the genetic merit of your herd. The high price is often driven by fashion, high demand and low availability; wait six months and the price often drops."
Each proof run, the Irelands make a list of bulls they are interested in. Storing semen on farm allows them to buy any time of the year.
"We often pick up bulls on special that would normally be out of our budget, but you need to keep an eye out for them," Mr Ireland said.
Mr Ireland's tips for buying Good Bulls on a budget include:
Buy catalogue specials.
Plan ahead to take advantage of specials.
Ask the adviser for a package that includes only Good Bulls within the set budget.
If the farm has plenty of replacements, consider using cheaper, beef straws over the bottom quarter of the herd.
A recent analysis by DataGene confirms Mr Ireland's experience that it's possible to buy semen on a budget without compromising genetic gain.
Michelle Axford from DataGene recently reviewed the relationship between genetic merit, based on BPI and the recommended retail price of straws. It included more than 500 Holstein bulls with easily accessible recommended prices. While the elite BPI bulls (BPI higher than 300) were more expensive on average ($31/straw), the average price of the remaining bulls is $27/straw, regardless of BPI (see table).
"Higher BPI bulls don't always cost more," Ms Axford said.
"Even among the top 100 BPI bulls, the price ranged from $14 to $150 a straw."
Ms Axford said a simple and effective approach was to look for bulls in the budget price range that carry the Good Bulls icon and meet the breeding priorities.
"By using Good Bulls to breed replacements, you can be confident they will improve the Balanced Performance Index of your herd," she said.
Bulls that carry the Good Bulls logo meet DataGene's minimum criteria for BPI and reliability and are available for purchase.
"There is a wide range of Good Bulls, giving farmers plenty of choice for Good Bulls that meet their priorities for specific traits, budget and company preferences," she said. D
For more ideas, refer to DataGene's fact sheet: Controlling herd improvement and AI costs or email .