Gender Selections Reduce Newborn Slaughter

DENMARK - Using gender-selected semen from beef bulls to inseminate organic dairy cattle ensures that it is economically viable to produce high-quality organic beef and reduces the problem of having to slaughter newborn Jersey bull calves.
calendar icon 9 December 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

On an organic dairy farm with Jersey cows it does not pay to fatten up the bull calves. Many bull calves are therefore put down immediately after birth, which is an ethical problem in any form of production.

The organic organisations are therefore investigating different options in order to prevent the slaughter of the newborn calves. One of the options is to use gender-selected semen, which means the farmer can himself select the sex of the calves. This technology is not allowed in organic farming, but there is sufficient interest in the technology that approval for its use in organic farming may be sought.

Scientists at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at Aarhus University have therefore analysed the impact of the technology on the production and economy of organic milk producers.

The basic idea is that the best breeding heifers in the herd are inseminated with gender-selected semen so that they breed nearly exclusively heifer calves that will be destined for the dairy herd. In this way, only the best stock will be part of the breeding programme and the farmer will achieve the best breeding progress for his herd.

The lowest-yielding cows are inseminated using semen from beef bulls. This means they produce fast-growing calves of a good meat quality. As it is profitable to fatten these up, you avoid the problem of having to slaughter newborn calves.

The two scientists Jehan Ettema and Jan Tind Sørensen from the Department of Animal Health, Welfare and Nutrition have developed scenarios for the new technology. The scenarios operate with different conditions for the use of the technology and describe its consequences for production and farm economy.

The calculations show conclusively that if used correctly, the technology would mean significant improvements for the organic dairy farmer in terms of production and economy.

Whether the organic farmers would wish to make use of gender-selected sperm is another matter – and something that will be up to the organic associations to decide.

There is no doubt, however, that under the current conditions the use of gender-selected semen from beef bulls in dairy farming would give both a better meat quality and economy and would prevent the slaughter of bull calves.

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