Thursday, July 7, 2022

LIC challenged on timing

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LIC is being challenged on when it knew a recessive gene was a problem for its top bull and whether that bull’s genetics should have been pulled from last season’s matings.

The challenge comes as tests indicate more LIC bulls are carrying the “small calf” gene, in addition to those already notified by the company.

LIC has confirmed to The New Zealand Farmers Weekly the genomically proven bulls Razzler, Havoc, Golden Boy and Rapture also carry the gene, subject to a final genetic test confirmation.

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This is in addition to the top cross-bred bull Howie’s Checkpoint and Friesian bull Puketiro Frostman.

Checkpoint and Frostman combined accounted for almost 400,000 inseminations last spring.

The additional bulls identified contributed 200,000 inseminations last spring. They bring the total number of inseminations last spring by LIC bulls carrying the recessive gene to about 650,000.

There is potential 5500 affected heifer calves will result – almost four times the number of calves affected by “hairy calf” syndrome last year.

Eastern Bay of Plenty dairy farmer and breeder Kevin Clark said he notified LIC about three dwarf calves born within two days in mid-August last year.

His records confirmed two of those calves were sired by Howie’s Checkpoint.

Farmers Weekly has confirmed other dairy breeders also had dwarf calves out of Checkpoint last spring. 

SMALL PROBLEM: This calf suffering “small calf” syndrome had LIC bull Razzler as its sire.

However, LIC said there were no reports of small calves in its spring 2012 calf defect database and only one report this year.

Bay of Plenty farmer and dairy breeder Ann Burt said the company was aware of the issues before the start of last season’s mating (Letters, May 13), but continued to market the high BW bull’s semen for the new season.

In response to her claim, LIC’s manager for research and development Dr Richard Spelman said LIC had no cause for concern over Checkpoint’s calves before last spring’s mating cycle.

But Spelman also confirmed Checkpoint had left a “small number” of small-sized calves, as did other cross-bred and Friesian sires.

Checkpoint recorded 25,000 inseminations resulting in 13,000 calves in 2012 and 250,000 inseminations for this spring’s calf crop.

Clark said if alarm bells were ringing the bull should have been pulled from the market before the next round of mating started.

However, LIC said the number of small calves was not a concern.

Clark and other breeders’ descriptions of the calves also differ from that of LIC.

LIC describes the calves as being generally healthy but significantly smaller at birth. Clark has described them as having shorter legs and pot bellies, with a dumpy, dwarf-type appearance.

LIC said neither Checkpoint nor Frostman exhibited “small calf” traits in any of their daughters born during sire proving.

Despite the trait’s confirmed presence, the company intends to continue marketing the leading bulls. It will use its DataMate technology to reduce the risk of mating a recessive cow with the bulls carrying the recessive gene.

The occurrence of the recessive gene has been compared to other genes discovered in dairy sires in NZ, including complex vertebral malformation (CVM) and bovine leukocyte adhesion deficiency (BLAD).

However, the “small calf” gene has potential to spread further within dairying populations than those diseases.

Two-thirds of calves with CVM were aborted.

With BLAD the immune system of the calf was affected, so the calf got sick and died, with the condition not always seen and recognised.

BLAD carrier bulls were 10 years apart when they arose and there were minimal “carrier” sires.

CVM, while more of a problem with 550,000 daughters to carrier sires, still pales against the 750,000 herd-tested daughters of “small calf” carrier sires.  

The recessive trait also meant it could be carried further through the population, with estimates up to a further 120,000 carrier calves being born this spring.

Clark said it was unfortunate the issue had arisen so soon after the hairy calf saga last year, but he agreed LIC should not have paid compensation on that problem.

“After all, how much would we have to pay for our genetics if they needed to cover themselves for every time a mutation showed up?”

LIC competitor CRV Ambreed has estimated about 60,000 semen straws from a bull with the “small calf” gene were distributed last spring.

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