What is a breeding plan?
Commercial herds purchase sire stags from the stud breeders who best suit the commercial herd’s production goals. Each year, the farm's sire stag team requires very careful consideration. A plan needs to be developed around stag availability for the new mating season, and very likely a selection of new stags will need to be purchased, to add to or replace the older stags already present in the herd. Commercial herds generally need to balance their requirement to replace hinds in the breeding herd and to generate males to provide the 'product' (i.e. venison, velvet or trophy).
For purchased breeding stags the aim should be to obtain as many progeny as possible from each sire (bearing in mind ‘safe’ mating ratios).
Different sire types will be required for different roles within the farm system as noted below.
Breeding plan for a venison production system
For a typical venison production system, there is a requirement to replace breeding hinds in order to remove non-productive older hinds and to continually improve the overall genetic merit of the breeding hind herd. The actual rate of replacement of older hinds is dependent upon a number of factors which include:
- the culling rate of non-productive hinds (e.g. those failing to successfully rear a calf); and
- the need to continually improve the herd's genetic merit by bringing forward younger hinds of higher genetic merit.
This means that a proportion of the breeding hinds in the herd will be required to produce replacement hinds, while the remainder will be used to produce offspring for venison production.
Hinds not needed to produce replacement hinds (this may include animals of the lowest genetic merit in the herd) can be mated to terminal sires with high terminal index values (either Wapiti or high terminal index value Reds) to produce males and females for venison production.
Given an average weaning rate of 85% and that half of progeny will be male, it means approximately 2.5 hinds will be mated for each replacement breeding female. For example, if the desired replacement rate is 10% of the breeding herd, then 25% of the breeding hinds will be needed to produce replacement females, and 75% to produce venison production animals.
However replacement rates of up to 20% of the breeding herd are not uncommon, especially if the producer is seeking to continually improve the genetics of the breeding hind herd. This means that 50% of the breeding hind herd is required to produce replacement hind progeny.
Breeding plan for a velvet production system
Most specialist velvet operations run a breeding hind herd to produce replacement velvet stags. In this case, all females are generally mated to stags of high genetic merit for velvet antler production. However 50% of the progeny will be females and may either be selected as replacement hinds for the velvet breeding herd or sold for venison production. The remaining male progeny will be retained until they are able to be assessed for their velvet traits. In many cases a first cull is made on the basis of the yearling stags' velvet antler, however the primary selection of replacement velvet stags is generally made at 2 years of age.
DEERSelect BVs for velvet antler production are currently only available for a limited number of stud herds. However, the 2-year-old velvet weight BV (VW2) could be used by the commercial velvetter to assist in making early selection decisions for males or replacement females.
Breeding plan for producing trophy antler stags
For trophy antler production the considerations for the breeding herd are much the same as for the velvet herd. However, no BVs are available in DEERSelect specifically for trophy antler traits.