Owl Farm Breeding Programme
In 2019, the team launched a Sexed Semen/Wagyu breeding programme that aimed to reduce the number of bobby calves born while creating a marketable, value-added product.
Of the 718 semen straws used in the 2019 mating, 182 were Wagyu/Short Gestation Length Hereford, 172 were Liquid Sexed Semen and 112 were Short Gestation Length (SGL) Dairy, in addition to the 252 straws of conventional semen.
SGL Dairy was used between weeks 7-12 of mating, and Sexed Semen was used on the top 75% of the herd selected on Breeding Worth (BW), health status, age (2-8 years), and those who had a pre-mating heat.
This plan reduced bobby calf numbers by 31%, and had the added bonus of increasing profit by more than $4000.
Based on the success of the 2019 season’s mating and calving plan, it was decided to continue with the Sexed Semen/Wagyu programme, and also to synchronise the R2s to help reach our goal of the herd being in the top 5% national BW.
On September 23, 2020, yearling mating commenced with synchronised blanket insemination using 30 straws of Kiwicross Sexed Semen and 71 straws of Premier Sires Kiwicross A2/A2, before running bulls 10 days after AB mating.
Milking herd mating commenced on 25th September, using eight Sexed Semen Kiwicross straws per day until 14th October. Premier Sires A2/A2 Kiwicross matings were completed on the first day to the top 50% of the herd who were either unable to be mated to Sexed Semen or synchronised as non-cyclers. Wagyu or Angus semen was used on the balance of the herd from 15th October to 15th December, until all straws were gone (350 Wagyu straws were available), and then Short Gestation Length (SGL) Kiwicross semen was used until mating end date.
The Sexed Semen/Wagyu mating plan has made a significant contribution to the farm’s goal of ‘purpose of life’. Overall, Owl Farm has seen a steady decline in bobby calves from around 275 in 2018, to around 165 in 2020.
The number of high BW heifer calves born has increased from 90 to 135 in the last three seasons. Owl Farm targets a replacement rate of 21% (selling the balance to improve the national herd) as rearing fewer replacements minimises the farm’s carbon footprint and greenhouse gases while ensuring all animals lead a productive life.
By sourcing replacements from the top 75% of the herd, the herd has accelerated its genetic gain. With a BW of 212, the herd is in the top 6% nationally, close to the farm team’s goal of being in the top 5%.
In 2020, around 70 Wagyu calves were born. They were reared on farm for 21 days before fetching a contract rate of $165/calf, with an additional bonus of $6.50 for every kilo above 35 kg; heavier calves have the potential to earn a little more. Wagyu prices are consistent and can be built into the farm’s budget, unlike Hereford calves.
Calving started on 3rd July 2021, and the team is confident the Sexed Semen/Wagyu breeding plan will continue to generate positive farm business improvements.