Walking through a Las Vegas casino was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

I was struck by the sheer glitz, the opulent decadence (clearly I was not in Ballymoney any more), and it was fascinating to observe how people so enthusiastically indulged in the excessiveness of gambling despite the odds being stacked against them.

Taking on that sort of risk is incomprehensible to me, not just because I am too much of a Presbyterian for such shenanigans, but also because I am of a cautious disposition and like to eliminate risk where possible.

However, many aspects of farming are a gamble, with the latest being whether to buy fertiliser now at what presently seem like astronomical prices or to wait to the spring when potentially it may not be available at any price.


But it is due to my risk-averse nature that this year I will only be using proven AI sires. As a relatively small herd we need to know (as much as possible at least) that the heifers we are breeding are going to be worthy of the considerable investment being made in them, and that they will achieve our breeding goals.

My focus is to breed robust cows that will produce a high lifetime yield of quality milk, with a tight calving index, and can effectively graze.

In order to achieve these ambitions, I want the most reliable data on the sires in which I am entrusting the future of my herd.

I have, in the past, embraced genomic bulls due to the significant genetic gains that they had over their proven contemporaries at the time. While numerous extremely high-quality genomic bulls have now progressed to building impressive proven results, many of us who bought straws of a young sire with a top genomic proof know the disappointment when he fails to live up to expectations.

This year, I intend to complete breeding season with a small team of bulls made up of no more than three Holstein, one Fleckvieh and one Angus sire.

This cannot be achieved while using genomic sires as you must spread the risk of a bull significantly deviating from his genomic proof.

The three Holstein bulls that I am using all have a proof of at least 91% reliability, and therefore can be described as Ronseal bulls (they will do what it says on the tin or in this case in the catalogue).

With a number of high quality outcross bulls gaining proven status I hope in future it will be possible to further reduce the number of Holstein sires in the tank.


I am not against genomics and believe that it most definitely has a place in our industry. We would not have as many high quality proven bulls available as we do presently if it was not for the technology.

In addition, genomic testing of heifers and mating them accordingly, is something that appeals to me from a risk reduction perspective and could allow for large leaps in genetic progress both for individual farms, but also for the wider industry.

Overall, it is an exciting time for any dairy farmer who has a passion for breeding quality stock as a wonderful combination of technology and genetics is yielding outstanding results.

But one negative outcome from such a wide range of genetic choice is that at this time of year our living room, kitchen table and even the downstairs bathroom is awash with AI catalogues. It takes a very patient wife to tolerate this level of enthusiasm.

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