The busy calving period is well and truly wrapped up for most dairy farms, but for the country's largest supplier of dairy genetics, the annual influx has just begun with the industry's most promising young talent arriving at LIC's farm in Hamilton.
More than 200 bulls have arrived at LIC to join the farmer-owned co-operative's Sire Proving Scheme. Most are the result of a contract mating between a top cow and one of LIC's top bulls and all passed inspection by LIC's specialised breeding team.
Simon Worth, livestock selection manager, said the bull calves are chosen based on their potential to produce high performing, efficient dairy cows that New Zealand farmers want to milk.
The bull calf's parentage, DNA profile and physical traits are all taken into account.
"We personally eyeball each and every calf to make sure their physical condition is up to scratch. These bull calves could go on to sire hundreds of thousands of daughters for the national herd, so we need to be stringent," he says.
The bull calves will now be put through their paces in the scheme, to see if they have what it takes to become part of LIC's Premier Sires team, the elite bulls responsible for siring up to 80 per cent of the national herd.
They will each be named and reared to maturity, undergoing health testing, vaccinations and training. Their first semen collection will take place at one year of age, and their first daughters to be born the following year.
Simon says getting a bull to Premier Sires status is a long game and roughly only 1 per cent of all the calves inspected by LIC each year will claim that exclusive title.
"It takes four years for a bull to become daughter proven, which is when we can get the first lot of production and conformation information from their two-year-old daughters," he says.
"If their daughters are high performing in terms of efficiency and productivity, have sound conformation and good workability traits, the bull will have earned his stripes and graduate to Premier Sires status. It's no easy feat.
"It's a tremendously proud moment for farmers when their bull calf is initially chosen, and even more so when it achieves the premier status. As one of our farmers put it, having one of your bull calves make the Premier Sires team is like having your son picked to be an All Black."
Calves that enter the Sire Proving Scheme are formally purchased by LIC, with breeders choosing their preferred compensation — either a one-off payment or royalty payments on a per-insemination basis once the bull's genetics are made available to farmers.
The Premier Sires teams are named by LIC in early spring, ahead of the peak mating season when farmers will be choosing bulls to mate their cows.