Joe Sheehy: 40% AI-bred heifers offers massive potential

ICBF data shows a significant increase in AI dairy breeding over the past five or six years.

Up until then, there were only 16 AI-bred dairy heifers per 100 cows each year.

For the past few years, many of the top farmers have been setting a target of 40 AI-bred heifers per 100 cows, to allow for expansion, culling and the sale of surplus stock.

It takes five or six AI straws to produce a suitable dairy heifer calving down.

Sexed semen has shown promise, and with further developments, should be of benefit in the future.

Farmers have a great choice of AI bulls now. Some of the genomic bulls have been proven, and there is a vastly improved range of proven and genomic bulls.

Herdowners can select bulls from the latest EBI list to breed cows with potential to give them massive extra profit per lactation, compared to cows bred from average stock bulls.

Moreover, they can select bulls that will improve traits that may be deficient in their herds, such as fertility, milk solids etc (40% weighting is given to fertility traits in calculating the EBIs).

An option that might suit some farmers is cross breeding.

The main advantage of crossbreeding is improved fertility. However, fertility can be improved without crossing to other breeds, through better management, and utilising EBI fertility data.

The Holstein crossed to pure Friesian is a growing trend, especially among farmers whose herds have become too extreme, whose system suits high-yielding fertile herds with medium beef qualities.

You can develop fertile, high-producing Holstein-Friesian herds without crossing.

I think most farmers will wisely stay with the black and whites.

This will give them the opportunity to have pedigree herds, and valuable male progeny and cull cows.

The Economic Breeding Index (EBI) is being regularly updated.

It is based on the Moorepark dairy farm system model, which is updated annually to reflect the latest five-year projections of milk price and costs.

Due to genomic selection over the past few years, there has been a massive increase in EBI values, with more than 100 bulls over 250 for EBI, in the active bull list published by ICBF.

Such high EBIs would have seemed unrealistic a few years ago.

There is a large increase in the fertility index of the EBI, while the index for milk volume has decreased significantly. The list now has a high proportion of Irish-bred bulls, compared to only two in 2001.

The Gene Ireland progeny test programme and the genomic selection technology are the main reason for this change.

Go to the ICBF web site and study the active bull list carefully.

Get the best possible advice on breeding policy to ensure herd improvements that will deliver the best profit under conditions of proper nutrition, disease control and management. Care should also be taken to avoid inbreeding.

Because of their lower reliability, genomically selected bulls should be included in teams of five, fully proven bulls should be used on some of the herd.

A number of bulls should also be teamed if using some sexed semen.

As fertility remains one of the main dairy herd problems, choose bulls with a high sub-index for fertility.


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