Improving Herds - Project Update


PARTNER PROFILE – Holstein Australia

haHolstein Australia is the largest dairy cattle breed society in Australia and is recognised as a world leader in the provision of registration, classification and genetic improvement services for dairy producers. Holstein Australia represents its members on numerous organisations, including DataGene, National Herd Improvement Association and the World Holstein Friesian Federation. It provides an impartial voice on matters affecting genetic improvement in the Australian dairy industry.

As a partner in ImProving Herds, Holstein Australia supports the demonstration of the financial benefit of herd improvement and the provision of quality information on herd genetics to farmers. HA's role in the ImProving Herds project is in collecting samples for genotyping on Improving Herds farms.


ImProving Herds has been making excellent progress, as it approaches the halfway point of its three-year journey.

Twenty seven Genetic Partner Farms have been selected in the major dairy regions around the country. The project is testing whether the highest 50% Balanced Performance Index (BPI) cows on 27 partner farms are more profitable than the bottom 50%. The two-year rising heifers on these farms have also been genotyped.

Seven Herd Test Partner Farms were selected. These farms had not recently participated in herd testing and undertook 6 herd tests each over a 12 month period. It’s pleasing to report that at the end of their contribution to ImProving Herds, all of these Partner Farms intend to continue herd testing at their own expense. The project are reviewing what tangible benefits that these farms have found using a partial budget method to put a value on the information gained from 12 months of herd testing. Some examples might include culling or drying off low-producing animals earlier.


Jennie PryceBy Dr. Jennie Pryce, Principal Research Scientist joint appointee of the Biosciences Research Division of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources and La Trobe University.

Between 1990/91 and 2013/14, the average amount of milk produced by herd recorded cows in Australia increased from 4,245 litres/year to 6,709 litres/year. Genetic selection accounts for around 30% of this gain.

Farm revenue is directly linked to milk production, so production traits are and will continue to be key dairy selection objectives. However, from the mid-1990s, it was recognised that narrow breeding goals, focused on only production and type traits, has had negative consequences for fitness traits, notably, female fertility deteriorated. High milk production and some type traits are associated with low fertility and this has been observed worldwide.

Since then, breeding goals have been extended to be more balanced which could have positive implications for both profitability and animal welfare. Selection responses for traits such as fertility show that genetic selection can improve even low heritability traits that are unfavourably correlated with milk production traits. Multi-trait selection indices that include fertility, health and management traits are now optimised for local conditions, such as the Balanced Performance Index (BPI) in Australia. BPI is an economic index that is ‘tuned’ to the profit drivers on Australian farms and accounts for trait farmer preferences of farmers collected through the 2014 National Breeding Objective review. The inclusion of farmer preference data is an example where Australia is leading best practice in index development.

Broad breeding goals is a global phenomenon, with other examples including the Economic Breeding Index (EBI) in Ireland, Breeding Worth (BW) in New Zealand, Profitable Lifetime Index (PLI) in the UK, Net Merit (NM) in USA, to name a few etc. This balanced approach ensures simultaneous improvement in several traits that encompass farm revenue and costs, making genetic selection more relevant to farm profit. It is likely that dairy cattle breeding goals will continue to be more complex in order to meet challenges set by consumers and society. For those interested in learning more about new traits and breeding objectives, the Journal of Dairy Science has put together a collection of research articles on the subject, and that can be found here:


Chaplin Sarah resizeBy Dr. Sarah Chaplin, Development Specialist - Animal Performance, Farm Services Division of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources

The Leading Herds Learning Program has been designed to enable participants to increase the genetic progress of their herds by increasing their understanding of key genetic and genomic concepts, and developing their skills at using industry tools, including genomic testing. The program gives participants access to the country’s top genomic researchers, as well as the opportunity to establish networks with other herd improvement enthusiasts. ImProving Herds is now developing this program into an online learning resource that will pull together a wealth of industry resources, tools and people in an innovative design purpose built for Australian farmers. The Leading Herds Learning Program aims to provide easy access delivery of a high quality educational resource for dairy farmers in dairy cattle breeding, offering participants learning opportunities regardless of time constraints and location. 

More information? Contact us at


Paul and Adam Lenehan, Crossley, WestVic Dairy 

profile LWhat motivated you to get involved in ImProving Herds? 

I have had a keen interest in breeding for over 40 years as a farmer.  I feel like it will be helpful to have more confidence in my own breeding practices and it will be interesting to see how the results of the study will impact my own herd performance in the next two-three years.

Have you collected data for herd improvement before?

Yes, I have recorded all my own breeding and mating programs and in the past two years, capturing everything electronically. 

Has using this data led to any benefits or gains, such as increased production or better fertility of your herd?

To be honest we haven’t chased BPI, we’ve used our own practices on farm and we have sought to breed with a selection of bulls from the US.  It has resulted in excellent production rates we are producing 604kg of milk solids from our Jersey herd and 700kgs from our Holsteins.

What management changes have you made most recently in the past to increase performance of your herd?

We have also employed a consultant who has worked with us for the past 19 years who has had a similar breeding philosophy to myself and my son Adam.  This work has positioned us, in 2015, as the second highest milk producer in the state for a Jersey farm. 

What are you most looking forward to as an active participant in this project?

I am really interested in gaining a better understanding of my herd, I am looking to increase my knowledge of genetic testing and how to improve my herd efficiency.  I have a keen interest in breeding programs, so I will be interested to learn more about selection techniques, and how BPI can influence the performance of my herd.

Geographic location: Crossley, Warrnambool, Port Fairy Region

Herd size: 400 (75% Jersey and 25% Holstein)

History of herd improvement data gathering: 40 years of capturing data, however two years of data that has comparisons across heifers

Breed: 75% Jersey and 25% Holstein

Current production level: 604kg MS/cow Jersey, 700kg MS/ cow Holstein


Sarah Chant, Warrion, WestVic Dairy

Sarah Chant










What motivated you to get involved in ImProving Herds?

I felt that it would be a really great opportunity to more fully understand the potential financial gains that could be made as a result of optimising the genetic merit of my herd.  I have just taken over the farm and I’ve not had exposure to the techniques used to maximise profit.  This has been really valuable. 

Have you collected data for herd improvement before?

On our farm, we record our mating program, fertility, we have our cows classified and herd test every month, recording fat protein, cell count and milk production rates.  We’ve collected data to better understand which heifers have high fertility rates and we’ve used this information to inform our culling strategy and future breeding program.

At the moment we have a low cell count, but we are always concerned with the rate and incidence of mastitis.  I am looking forward to using genomics in the future to ensure that the incidence of mastitis is kept to a minimum.

What are you most looking forward to as an active participant in this project?

I am really interested to see the genotyping done on my heifers. This will provide a benchmark for any future work I conduct in this area. This is the first time we have really undertaken genetic testing of our herd.  I am interested to further explore the fertility rates of my heifers and identify those with high fertility rates.  I find genetics really interesting and I hope to see some great benefits come from the work that we are doing with ImProving Herds.

What management changes have you made most recently in the past to increase performance of your herd?

We have employed a consultant to track the performance of our herd and we have put a lot effort into calf rearing which has made a real difference to the milk production of our heifers. 

Geographic location: Warrion, Victoria

Herd size: 220

History of herd improvement data gathering: It is the first time the farm has conducted genetic testing however the farm records fertility and breeding rates and monthly herd testing data including fat protein, cell count and milk production rates. 

Breed: Predominately Jersey (220) and a small number of Brown Swiss (8)

Current production level: 476kg MS/cow


herdtest2In the face of weaker milk prices, dairy farmers are taking a close look at all areas of the budget, including herd costs such as artificial insemination (AI) and herd testing.

The 2014/15 Dairy Farm Monitor Project reported that AI and herd testing accounts for about 2% of total farm costs, but it builds one of the largest assets in the business - the herd.

Genetic improvement is permanent in that no matter what the season brings, the genetic value of an animal stays constant. Investment in genetics compounds from generation to generation as traits are passed on from dam to daughter.

As a group, the higher genetic merit animals within your herd contribute the most to the net profit of the farm business.


What to do:

  • Keep using AI. Herd bulls are not a cheaper option and daughters produce 52kg/year less fat and protein, on average.
  • Use Good Bulls. The top 100 bulls range in price from about $10 to $85 so there are Good Bulls for every budget.
  • Keep herd recording. It’s the tool to help you make better herd decisions.
  • Use enough semen. About 6 straws of conventional semen for every replacement needed in 3 years.
  • Don’t waste semen using poor technique or joining cows that aren’t suitable.

For more information, check out the fact sheet here


HERD 17, 22-23 March, Bendigo All Seasons, 171 McIvor Road, Bendigo