Group breeding involves going a step beyond breeding your own bulls and combining with a group of like-minded farmers to pool the genetic resources of several herds.
By enlarging the genetic pool in this way, members of the group will be able to breed higher performing bulls and cows than is possible by relying solely on the resources of their own herd.
Group breeding schemes exploit the fact that the larger the numbers, the greater the benefits from applying population genetics to livestock improvement.
The mechanics of creating a group breeding scheme are as follows:
1. Each farmer screens out the highest performing 10% to 20% of cows which meet the agreed criteria of the group to form an elite herd on the farm. A central nucleus herd is formed from the highest performing animals. This is run as a separate entity on one of the group’s farms (or a completely separate property).
The top performing bulls from the central nucleus herd are retained for breeding in the nucleus herd. Lower performing bulls are allocated to members on an agreed basis who use them across their elite herd and commercial herd.
2. Replacement cows from each farmer’s commercial herd are screened for entry into the elite herd, and cows from the elite herds screened for entry into the nucleus herd. Thus no cow in an elite herd or the nucleus herd maintains her position as of right.
In fact if the scheme is working properly, all mixed aged cows should be steadily displaced by newer generations of higher performing young cows.
There are many variations on the way group breeding schemes are structured and run.
The two fundamentals are:
- 1. Clearly identified breeding objectives which are agreed by all members.
- 2. A clearly defined ownership and financial structure, which passes on the genetic and economic benefits to members in a fair and equitable manner.
There should be mechanisms which enable individual members to leave without rancour or financial problems. It is wise to decide in advance on what basis the group will be wound up should this be decided on at some future date. A regular review of objectives and progress is essential.