Refunds for mutant calves refused

New Zealand’s farmer-owned AI company, Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC), is refusing to give refunds, or pay compensation, after semen it sold produced mutant calves.

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It said it’s not liable because the mutant gene was naturally occurring and the co-op did not know about the mutation when it sold the semen. It was first offered in 2010 and used in 12 345 inseminations. Now about 900 farmers have seen their herds produce around 1 500 calves with the mutation. In a letter to the farmers, LIC said the genetic mutation produces animals that are stocky and more of a beef breed type with a particularly hairy coat.

The calves have a lack of heat tolerance and some have respiratory issues, including faster breathing/panting. Most importantly, the mutant cows don’t milk well or can calve down completely dry, making them useless for dairying. Despite this, there will be no compensation for owners who paid LIC the equivalent of R131 for each insemination.

“If you take a typical example, a farmer might be breeding 50 or 80 or 100 replacement heifers and if they end up with a couple of duds, I’m afraid that’s biology,” said LIC’s general manager for genetics Peter Gatley. Refunding the insemination fees would cost LIC R197 000, but the bill jumps to almost R13,13 million – or R8 538 for each mutant calf – if farmers are compensated for additional costs. 

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