Two Taranaki dairy farmers are joining a national campaign for compensation for animals with a genetic mutation inherited from a commercial breeding bull.
Calves born last season on the farms of Geoff Butler, of Kapuni, and Mark Muller, of Eltham, have the mutation which produces hairy, heat-intolerant, poorly-lactating heifers.
Hamilton-based dairy genetics co- operative Livestock Improvement (LIC), which provided the semen from a holstein-friesian bull called Matrix has refused to pay compensation and said the mutation, discovered after the calves were born, was naturally occurring.
LIC genetics general manager Peter Gatley said: "Most farmers recognise that these rare mutations are naturally occurring and simply a fact of life."
LIC said that if it were to provide compensation, it could cost up to $1.95 million, calculated at $1300 for each of the 1500 affected calves.
Mr Butler, who milks 500 friesian and friesian-cross cows, and Mr Muller, who is developing his 600-cow herd to friesian-cross, both used semen from Matrix last season.
They want to hear from Taranaki dairy farmers with calves affected by the mutation so they can collectively seek compensation from LIC.
Mr Butler said four of seven calves he suspected of carrying the mutation had positive DNA tests for it.
Ten of Mr Muller's calves had positive tests.
In March, farmers were told the previously unknown genetic condition had affected about 1500 heifers sired by Matrix.
LIC has stopped selling Matrix semen and has offered free genetic tests to identify calves with the mutation so farmers can cull carriers or use them as beef animals. LIC said those without the mutation would mate and milk normally, and would not transmit it.
Mr Muller said that just before Christmas he noticed his calves, which were being grazed off his farm, did not look right, were not thriving and constantly sought shade.
The farmers believe LIC should compensate them for their expenses in raising the animals to yearlings.
"We feel let down by an organisation that's a co-operative," Mr Muller said.
He said he had paid a premium for the semen and had finished up with dud animals which LIC had advised him to shoot.
"Well, I've got 10. I feel like saying: you do it. They're animals I've cared for. [The mutation] should have been picked up earlier. If we had known, we would have culled the calves at birth rather than spending money raising them."
Mr Butler said he had seen his heifers standing in troughs - apparently to cool down - and rolling in mud like pigs.
"They won't milk so they're no good to us - but they've been marketed as DNA-proven," he said.
He thought LIC had handled the matter poorly and was surprised its insurance did not provide cover.
"They should take some cover, so when things like this happen farmers can be reimbursed for costs."
LIC spokeswoman Clare Bayly said the mutation was a spontaneous biological condition which insurance did not cover.
Mr Butler also questioned the way farmers had been updated by LIC about the problem and said some had learned of the issue only three weeks ago.
Although LIC had suggested carriers of the gene could be grown for meat, Mr Butler said he was reluctant to do that. "I wouldn't like to eat the meat and I certainly wouldn't want my kids to eat it.
"The only option is to destroy them."
He wanted compensation of up to $500 for each calf to cover the cost of the semen and of rearing.
"We'd just like to cover our costs rather than our potential loss.
"We're still paying for rearing because they're still out grazing.
"We think LIC has a moral obligation to us. We're not after thousands of dollars."
He wants to ensure other farmers know about the mutation. "Some people might have calves with the mutation and not realise it."
The animals looked normal at birth.
"Then they looked hairy, as if they had a winter coat or missed a drenching."
Mr Butler has belonged to LIC for 23 years and the Muller family for 50 to 60 years. "So we both have a long- standing relationship with it," Mr Muller said.
BREEDING PROBLEM: Matrix semen was offered in spring 2010 and used in 12,345 inseminations. Problems were identified in spring 2011, when Matrix's sisters (sired by the same bull as Matrix, the holstein-friesian bull Halcyon) calved. About half these calves were abnormally hairy and failed to produce milk normally. Matrix calves born in 2011 were examined by LIC. The trait appeared to have been transmitted to about half his daughters. It is thought the problem involves about 900 farmers and there are 1500 "hairy calves", all heifers. In March 2012 farmers who had used Matrix in 2010 were advised to cull offspring with unusually hairy coats. Farmers with Matrix calves due this year have also been notified. Calves with the genetic mutation have rough coats, are stocky and have a low tolerance of heat. Some animals display a respiratory issue, including faster breathing/panting.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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