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Focus on bulls a family tradition

Focus on bulls a family tradition

A strong focus on carefully selecting the bulls they’re putting over their 460 strong herd of Holstein-Fresians is nothing new for his family, according to Richard Ray.

Now 30 he’s been back working with his parents, Stephen and Judith, on the family farm for the last ten years.

Together they work 200 hectares of heavy clay soil in Clydevale, South Otago, with an additional 150 hectare support block 10 kilometres down the road. As of last year they’ve been wintering and calving in the two herd homes they’ve built over the last five years.

Five years ago they also started recording every animal’s DNA which avoids any confusion with the calves, and it’s a natural extension of the family’s interest in their herd’s genetics.

Already 30 odd years ago the Rays were looking to breed higher protein producing animals. “It was around the time protein started being tested,” Richard explains. “You used to only be able to test for fat.

“My father, Stephen, was selling some semen for Worldwide Sires, a company importing semen from North America. He’d select some of the best overseas bulls for our herd and the main criteria was high protein.”

Early on he took ten or so straws from a young sire bull called Manfred which gave them six good daughters.

“Then Manfred had a young son they called O-bee Manfred Justice, O-Man for short. Stephen and Judith took a gamble on him because he was sired by a good bull and he was a bit cheaper being unproven at the time.

“They started using a lot of his straws even though back in those days there was no way to tell how good he’d be. It turns out he’s the best bull we’ve ever used, and he was super-fertile.”

During the 80’s and 90’s fertility in HolsteinFresians was a problem around the world. O-Man was a game-changer.

“He passed that fertility on down the line. He was more functional than exceptional in North American terms with their focus on the show ring but we’ve got some 12-year-old O-Man cows who will pass 100,000 litres for lifetime production, so that’s pretty exceptional for us. Plus he was really easy calving.”

The Rays went on to use a bull called Planet who worked well over the O-Man cows. His all new blood line was an added advantage.

“One of his benefits was that he was completely out-crossed, so completely new genetics coming into the herd, and he left behind really good udders and a boost in milk production too.”

One of the issues facing anyone using only New Zealand genetics is the success of some bulls which means their blood lines dominate the New Zealand catalogue.

“Avoiding them may not leave you a lot of choice,” says Richard, “but you don’t really want to inbreed your cows.”

He believes that 50 or 60 years ago every farmer would have had a real interest in their herd, whereas today most people just use the Bull-ofthe-Day.

Although the Rays breed from some of their own young bulls, as far as Richard’s concerned their investment in the best genetics for their herd easily pays for itself.

“Better fertility, better udders, strong feet and legs, more milk in the vat and more efficient grass harvesting.”

The herd’s looking good, so now he’s looking forward to the day when they have their own Premium Sire to add to the mix.

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