Back in 2017, I had a small bit of a conundrum. I had three yearling pedigree bulls. They were out-wintered in the school of hard knocks with the older breeding bulls.

Two were from AI and the plan for them was to go to the out-farm, one with the replacement heifers and the other with the young cows.

The third was born in late March 2016, almost two months after the others. He was from our stock bull at the time, an animal that had a super ability of throwing out small calves with excellent growth rates.

The young bull was too good to let go but was related to practically all the heifers.

They were familiar with each other and the fact he looked like a handy weanling alongside the older animal meant fighting wouldn’t be an issue

Also working against him at the time was the fact that he didn’t have size on his side, so selling him for breeding wouldn’t have been an option.

He was too good to let go and needed a bit of time, so a decision was made to let him off with the main group of cows and stock bull.

They were familiar with each other and the fact he looked like a handy weanling alongside the older animal meant fighting wouldn’t be an issue. He was unlikely to bull any cows either as he was too small.

Defying expectations

He defied expectations. Fast forward to now and he’s on a dairy farm and has left a legacy of three second calvers behind him. The DNA samples for BDGP revealed he was the sire. There was possibly a few bull calves too. I’ll never know now but it got me wondering why we weren’t doing DNA tagging at birth.

Calves are enjoying the sun after a wet start to their outdoor lives.

I’m not involved in the pilot DNA tagging project being conducted by ICBF but I’m interested in how it goes. With the end finally in sight for BVD eradication, surely it makes sense to continue taking a skin sample tag.

If successful, it could play a part in finding out what bulls are delivering the best results, certainly from a dairy calf-to-beef perspective, and improve traceability throughout the food chain.

Reducing the unknown sire element in herds across the country would help figure out what sires are delivering positive results and weed out those who are not.

The older calves who endured some tough weather are now thriving well.

Looking at ICBF statistics from 2010 to 2020, on average 42% of dairy calves born each year had no sire recorded. Over the corresponding time this figure was closer to 20% in the suckler herd, no doubt aided by schemes such as BDGP.

Farmers contribute enough that others benefit from

There are likely to be concerns over cost but perhaps this is a chance for the industry to put its money where its mouth is regarding sustainability. Farmers contribute enough that others benefit from. Maybe it’s time to be paid back.

I’m heading into that part of calving where I could really benefit from DNA tagging. Some of the cows calving now are those that repeated to AI or had a change of bull mid-season for whatever reason.

I’d be 99% sure of who the sire is but I’ve learned via the BDGP genotype game that there’s always at least one surprise every year.

The progress through the grass is a good summation of the land types and circumstance we farm in.

At home, first rotation is almost complete. It’s about 70% with the young stock and just getting under way on the out farm. The replacement heifers went there last week and the first bunch of young cows should be there by this weekend.