Interview with Lars Nielsen, Breeding Manager VikingGenetics
Lars Nielsen is the Breeding Manager at Viking- Genetics. It is in his department the breeding strategies are designed, and the guidelines that lead the work to identify the very best sires, are made.
Where do you put the weight on the selection criteria to find the best bulls?
First of all, we breed for maximum profitability. We have a balance between production and cost reducing traits. Our selection criteria focus heavily on the health traits. That is our strength in VikingGenetics. Other companies claim to breed for health, but the thing is that we are the ones having the highest weight and highest genetics progress on health and fertility traits. The reason why we are able to have this high weight is not only a political decision, it is because we have a proven, reliable registration system to back up our breeding values.
How different is VG from other AI companies that claim to breed for health?
If another Artificial Insemination (AI) company decides to put high weight on traits such as mastitis resistance or hoof health, they can probably do so, but the problem is that they are not able to evaluate mastitis resistance in a reliable way. We can put much focus on the health traits because for us it makes sense since we have the registration system that we have.
There is a tendency among other AI companies to say that they breed for health. What do you think about this?
Health traits have been an integrated part of VikingGenetics’ breeding goals since late 80’s. The milk recording system farmers are making in the VikingGenetics countries – Denmark, Sweden and Finland – is highly developed, and 90% of the cows participate in the registration of health traits. Although other AI companies have understood the importance of following the health breeding concept, it is VikingGenetics who leads it.
The reason many others are not doing this in other countries is that they can’t. They don’t have the data in the computer, just the computer.
Is this registration system unique for the Nordic countries?
There are countries that have started to report to a system, but we are the number one in this. We have had this tradition for almost 40 years now; we have learned a lot, and it is a natural part of our farmers’ work to add all this in formation to our cattle database.
What does this weight on health traits mean for the dairy farmer?
With no doubt, the health traits VikingGenetics is breeding for, and I mean all the traits included in the NTM, are creating profitability for the dairy farmer. VikingGenetics has a highly reliable evaluation system that means that, with the decided economic weights, we can generate significant genetic progress in their herds and in their business.
Can production and health be picked at the same time?
The other good news of selecting by Nordic Total Merit (NTM) is that production is included. Usually, when you select for production, you take one step forward if you go for production, but you will go one step back for mastitis resistance, fertility, and other diseases because they have negative correlation to production. If you gain in production, you will naturally loose in health. But since we take health traits into consideration in NTM, we are able to gain significantly in production but also in health traits – look at the pheno-typical level of our animals.
Is the company now taking genetic progress to a higher level by using more elite heifers?
Yes, we have taken the step to buy fewer bulls and put more focus on females to increase genetic progress. We work more with embryo transfer to let the best females get more calves.
Do you have a favourite Viking breed?
No, I don’t have a favourite. In my childhood, I was working with VikingRed; my family had a VikingRed herd in Denmark and we liked showing them at shows. Then I became responsible for the Holstein breed when I was 28 years old, in Dansire, and then I continued in VikingGenetics when it was formed in 2008. I may have more knowledge of Holstein, but then even though I have not worked that much with Jersey, I can easily see that Jerseys are extremely efficient cows with high components.
Therefore, it is true when I say that I don’t have any favourite because I can see the advantages in all of them. My favourite is the Viking package.
What is the most demanded breed on the international markets?
It is VikingJersey because you have this high environmental focus on efficiency, and I have no doubt that the Jersey cow is the most efficient one. There is a huge demand in the US for example. The forecast is saying that they are going from 10 to 25% Jersey cows, and that is a big population. We have a more efficient product; we have a healthier, stronger animal with high components which produces more than just water. It is good for cheese production too. The same thing is happening in Europe where it is possible to sell more VikingJersey semen